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Classic Portland Road Show

Classic Portland

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

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."
    Bill Walton
    Bill Walton led the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship.

  • 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 attention.

  • 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
  • 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 Game 4.

    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. Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
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