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Friday, April 20, 2001
Classic catches up with Lionel Hollins

By Phillip Lee
Special to ESPN Classic

Lionel Hollins, a 6-3 guard, played two years at Dixie Community College in St. George, Utah, before finishing his college career at Arizona State University. Hollins averaged almost 17 points per game over two seasons as a Sun Devil. He was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the sixth pick overall in the 1975 NBA draft.
Lionel Hollins
Lionel Hollins was an All-American at Arizona State before being drafted No. 6 overall by the Trail Blazers in 1975.
A year later, Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas and Hollins led the Blazers to their first-ever and only NBA championship. After 10 seasons in the NBA, Hollins decided to call it quits and began a new career as a coach. Phillip Lee got in touch with former NBA All-Star and found out what's been going on in his life.

PHILLIP LEE: What are you doing now?
LIONEL HOLLINS: I was coaching the Las Vegas Bandits of the International Basketball League. About a month ago we folded. We had the second-best record in the league at the time, 20-11, and just ran out of money. I'm going to try to get in on all the (coaching) jobs that open up. I was coaching at Vancouver for five years, Phoenix before that for seven years and coaching at Arizona State, my alma mater, after I quit playing.

PL: Let's talk about your time in Portland and with the Trail Blazers. What are fondest memories about being with the Blazers?
LH: Obviously, the fondest memory is winning the championship (in 1977) and to see the city go absolutely berserk. It was the beginning of Portland becoming a big-league city. They hadn't made the playoffs in the previous six years and then we came along. We made the playoffs and had the third-best record in the West. We beat the Bulls and then we upset Denver, upset Los Angeles and upset Philadelphia. According to all the scouting reports they were upsets, but we felt we were one of the best teams in the league that year. That was the biggest moment -- winning the championship. (I have fond memories of) the people I met in Portland, the fans and how they took to us and the relationships that I developed while I was there -- both on and off the court.

PL: When you were selected by Portland in the 1975 NBA draft, were you disappointed because the Blazers were one of the worst teams in the league?
LH:
No. I don't think my thought process had anything to do with that "they're a bad team." My thought process was that I was being drafted by an NBA team and I'm highly honored and I was excited. I was the sixth player taken in the draft and just happy to have the opportunity to be in the NBA. I didn't think about what their record was. I was just looking at it that I was going to an NBA team and get the opportunity to fulfill my dream (to play in the NBA). And they did have some very fine players already. They had Geoff Petrie, Sidney Wicks, John Johnson, Greg Smith, Lloyd Neal and Bill Walton.

PL: Did you feel that you had a shot to win it all in 1977?
LH:
I think once we left training camp and started the exhibition, I don't know if we thought we had a chance at the championship as much as we thought we were good. Even when we made the playoffs, I don't think we looked at it as "this is our chance to win the win championship," but we were in the playoffs and we were going to do as well as we could. Fortunately, we got to the finals and I think that's when it hit me that this was an opportunity to win the championship.

PL: Was the championship squad a young team?
LH:
It was a very young team. Bill Walton was 24, Maurice Lucas was 24, Bob Gross and myself was 23 and Johnny Davis was 21. We had some veterans like Dave Twardzik, Larry Steele, Lloyd Neal and Corky Calhoun. They were all veteran players that had been in the league, but they hadn't achieved anything at that level by any stretch.

PL: You guys lost the first two games of the championship series to Philadelphia and even though you were such a young team, you were able to overcome that deficit.
LH:
I think it's all about the maturity factor and the confidence factor. We believed in ourselves. I keep hearing that "they're too young" or "this is their first time in the playoffs." I don't think that has much to do with it. It's your mental approach and confidence level. We certainly had a good amount of confidence. We were disappointed that we hadn't won, but we didn't feel that they had beaten us. We had 27 turnovers in one game and 32 in the other. You're got going to beat anybody having that many turnovers. But we came back and got into our game. We quit forcing the ball and we started letting things happen and they couldn't play with us.

PL: Were their individual moments that stand out while you were in Portland?
LH:
I have a lot of memories. There were a lot of individual games. (Such as) making a last second shot against the Bulls (in the 1977-78 regular season). We're down four points with 12 seconds to go and come back beat the Bulls by scoring six points in 12 seconds. I scored four of the six points, including the winning bucket. I had a 38-point game against San Antonio, made the All-Star team and was named All-Defense. All those things were highlights, but the thing that defines me now is the fact that we won championship.

PL: How does it feel to be part of the foundation that made Portland a basketball city?
LH:
It's special. It's a good feeling. We had no idea that we were making history. We were just playing basketball. We were basketball players who went out and played as well as we could. In the process, we did make history. I still remember that championship year, when we came home from Philadelphia and there were 4,000-5,00 fans at the airport. They had to close down the airport.

PL: It must've pretty overwhelming.
LH:
It was. We couldn't even get our bags. They just paraded right on through to where we could get our cars. The way the city treated us and the way the city erupted that night, the next month or so was like a continual festival.

PL: Did people start recognizing you in the street after you guys won the championship?
LH:
I think once we started winning people started recognizing us and certainly after we won the championship. Even now when I go back, I have people come up to me and go, "my dad or my mom used to bring me to games" or "I remember when you played when I was a young kid." Then you have the people who are my age or older who go, "oh we were there." I had the experience of coming to Portland my senior year in college. We played in the old Far West Classic so I had been Portland (before I was drafted). I didn't think anything of it. It was just a college basketball tournament. But I got to go back and things really worked out well.