Classic Portland Road Show
Q & A with Lionel Hollins
Walton weathered injuries to win
Murray: Walton's more than a footnote
Friday, April 20, 2001
'77 Blazers: A special team in a special time
By Dr. Jack Ramsay
Special to ESPN.com
When asked to recall the events of the Portland Trail Blazers' championship
season of 1977, a flood of memories fill my mind. In chronological order they
look like this:
Preseason: Getting to know the team
My first meetings with the players took place in mid-June, the day after I
signed on to coach this young team that had never had a .500 season nor
ever made the playoffs. My purpose was to give them an idea of what they
could expect from me, the kind of game I wanted to play, and how I foresaw
their roles in it. I also wanted to get their feelings about the team's
potential and how they felt about their teammates. By meeting in their
homes, I also was able to get a glimpse of their life-styles...some were
single, some with young families. My most vivid memory of those meetings was
Bill Walton advising me, "Coach, don't assume we know anything."
The first team meeting at training camp when I fined Walton, Maurice Lucas
and Herm Gilliam for being several minutes late. I think that got everybody's
Stopping a scrimmage mid-way through training camp after an especially
brilliant 10-minute segment of play, telling the team, "We can win playing
like this. I don't mean just having a winning season...I mean win the whole
thing." The seed of a championship season may have been planted then.
In the Blazers' first preseason game at home against the Lakers, as the
team struggled early to get its game together, a fan asking in a loud voice,
"Where you going to coach next year, Ramsay?"
Regular season: Learning how to win
|Bill Walton led the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship.|
Some early season successes and failures: big wins at home -- a 42-point
margin over Philadelphia, +26 over New York; but aggravating losses in the
first six road games.
Playing with poise and purpose to come from behind to win at Denver in late
January at the end of an eight-game road trip -- finally proving to ourselves that
we could beat a good team on the road.
Clinching a playoff spot late in the regular season, and the scoreboard
flashing -- PLAYOFFS...PLAYOFFS...PLAYOFFS -- as the final seconds ticked off the game clock.
Playoffs: Sweet sweep of the Lakers
The first round (best out of three in those days) match-up with Chicago:
Lionel Hollins knocking down a game-clinching jump shot to win the series, 2
to 1, over a tough Bulls team led by Artis Gilmore.
In the opening game of the Conference Semifinals, Maurice Lucas busting a
called play to back his man down, shoot over him, and score from the low
post in the closing seconds at Denver. The Blazers went on to win, four games to
two, but Luke's hoop in Game 1 was the key basket of the series.
Sweeping the Lakers in the Conference Finals. Herm Gilliam coming off the
bench to hit an incredible array of shots to spark a struggling win in Game 2
at LA. Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar going at each other hard in their
classic match-up...Big Bill with an awesome thunder dunk over Kareem to seal
NBA Finals: Winning it all
Suddenly, the NBA Finals! Almost hard to believe, but there we were, face to
face with the star-studded Philadelphia 76ers. We waited nine days for
Philadelphia to finish its series with Houston and for the Finals to begin.
Our game wasn't sharp and I sensed some nervousness among the players as we
prepared for the first two games in Philadelphia. The combination of those
factors contributed to some lackluster basketball by my Blazers in the
first two games, and Philly whacked us pretty good.
The Lucas - Darrell Dawkins "fight." In the closing minutes of Game 2, Lucas
and Dawkins got into a bump and shove confrontation and were separated. But
Lucas circled around and hit Dawkins with a looping right hand, and the
Spectrum erupted. Fans ran onto the floor, all wanting parts of Lucas and
anybody else from Portland, but game officials finally restored order and
the game ended without further incident.
Philly, exuding great confidence, was thinking "sweep"; the subdued Blazers,
down 0-2, returned to Portland to do some soul-searching.
Getting "our game" back. On the plane trip home, my assistant, Jack
McKinney, and I discussing the best
way to get back to playing the game that had gotten us to the NBA Finals.
After considering lineup changes, we decided that we needed more than
anything to just play at our best level...good defense and rebounding, and
quick, fast-breaking, well-executed offense...period. Nothing else had to
happen. We had two good practice days to stress those factors. I sensed we
were ready ...and we were, winning the first by 22 points, and the second by
32. Our confidence had been restored.
The pivotal Game 5 at Philadelphia. That positive feeling among the Blazers
was back...the attitude that we could beat anybody anywhere. The Sixers, on
the other hand, appeared uncertain and to have lost their spark. We started
strong in this game, which quieted the Sixers fans early; built a 16-point
lead in the second half, and watched them head for the exits early. But the
Sixers didn't roll over. They mounted a fierce rally in the closing minutes,
but we hung on to win, helped by key scores from Bob Gross down the stretch.
The Blazers were up, three games to two, and going home!
Winning it all. Game 6 turned out to be much like Game 5. The Blazers got
out early, led by 12 at the half, then hung on to win. Great players step up
when they're needed most. Bill Walton stepped up big time in Game 6. He was
superb. His stats line speaks for itself: 20 points, 23 rebounds, eight blocked
shots and five assists. For the Sixers, Julius Erving also had a great game,
putting 40 points on the board. But this game was in doubt until the final
seconds when Walton tipped a missed shot by George McGinnis toward the
backcourt, and Johnny Davis ran it down as the horn sounded. The Portland
Trail Blazers were NBA champions!
Celebration: The parade
The parade. The day after the final game, a hastily arranged parade was
scheduled in Portland. Team personnel met at the Coliseum late in the
morning and were taken to the downtown railroad station where each member and
his family were loaded into open convertibles. My wife Jean, and daughter
Carolyn, the only one of our five children living in the area, accompanied
me. There were only a few bystanders as the line of cars made its way toward
the center of town, but when we turned onto Broadway, we were met by
wall-to-wall people -- from one side of the street to the other. It was like
Times Square on New Year's Eve. The cars had to slow to a crawl to make
openings big enough to allow them through. An estimated half-million
Oregonians turned out to salute the new NBA champs. Office workers leaned
out of windows waving Blazer banners; kids shinnied up lamp posts to get a
better look at their heroes; and happy men, women and children of all ages
reached out to shake or just touch hands as the cars made their way past
them. It was a happening!
That season took place 24 years ago, but its details remain in my memory as
vividly today as they did then... and I have an enlarged picture of that
parade on the wall behind me as I write this, as a reminder of a special team
in a special time.