Porter reflects on his life as a Blazer
He wasn't the best player ever to wear a Trail Blazer uniform, and with the increasingly productive escapades of Damian Lillard, he is not even the greatest point guard in franchise history.
But as Portland celebrates the 50th year of its only major league pro sports team, a special nod goes in the direction of Terry Porter as the true "Mr. Blazer."
Can it really be that Porter is 56 years old? Seems like yesterday that Porter was doing his thing for the Blazers, in many ways serving as the heartbeat of the squads that reached the NBA Finals in 1990 and '92.
Now Porter is his fourth season as head coach of the University of Portland Pilots. Terry and wife Susie have spent most of the last 35 years in Portland, beginning in 1984 when Terry was the 24th pick in the NBA draft. Porter's No. 30 jersey is retired and hanging in the rafters at Moda Center, homage to the contributions he made during his 10-year run with the Blazers.
"We love it here," Porter said. "We decided to make this home. Some people complain about the rain, but we embraced it because we come from snow (Wisconsin).
"The relationships we've been able to build over the years have been outstanding. The people of the state of Oregon have embraced me from Day One. It's been an unbelievable journey. I'm glad to be considered a Portland guy and an Oregonian. It's home, that's for sure. I couldn't see myself going anywhere else."
Porter arrived in Portland from tiny Wisconsin-Stevens Point, an NAIA school, with plenty of chops. The 6-3 point guard made the rotation as a rookie under Jack Ramsay, then broke into the starting lineup the next season under Mike Schuler, holding that position for eight years. By the time he left after the 1994-95 season to join the Minnesota Timberwolves, Porter was a two-time All-Star who had proved himself as a clutch shooter and a tremendous competitor.
Today, Porter ranks No. 1 on the Blazers' career assists list and is among the top five in most offensive categories, including scoring (fourth), steals (second), 3-point baskets (third), 3-point percentage (fifth) and free-throw percentage (fifth).
Porter ended his stellar 18-year career in 2002 after stints with Miami and San Antonio, finishing with 7,160 assists — 15th on the all-time NBA list. He scored 15,586 points, which ranks 124th all-time. Perhaps the most remarkable of Porter's accomplishments was making the playoffs in 17 of his 18 seasons. But he never won a championship. That, he said, takes away from an otherwise fulfilling career.
"When you are able to be a part of great teams, you want the ultimate reward, the confirmation that you are part of the best of something," Porter said. "I missed the chance to be part of a true legacy in Portland. We were all disappointed about not achieving that, but not about the journey. In Portland, we had a three-year stretch that was probably as good as anybody's."
The Blazers, led by the likes of Porter, Clyde Drexler, Buck Williams, Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth and Cliff Robinson, averaged nearly 60 wins a season over a three-year span from 1989-92.
"Those were the best times of our lives," Porter said. "The state embraced all of us like adopted sons. It was nothing like I experienced before or since.
"We all were so competitive. We had a couple of practices where guys went after each other. That's the thing that sticks out in how the team was able to come together and achieve greatness. Each guy had a competitive edge. We all wanted to be good, to be successful, but each one of us was willing to make sacrifices in our individual game."
The poster guy for that, Porter said, was Williams, an undersized 6-8, 225-pound power forward who worked the boards and the defensive end for the Blazers.
"Buck sacrificed his offense for the rest of us," Porter said. "Clyde was always going to get his points. It was just a matter of who else was going to pick up that offensive load. Buck did all the dirty work. He was the glue. He set screens, got offensive rebounds and guarded all the prolific-scoring power forwards in the Western Conference. His unselfish play allowed 'Duck,' Jerome and myself to get some more shots. He was country strong, a very competitive guy who played with a lot of heart."
For the middle of those three seasons, 1990-91, the Blazers added guard Danny Ainge to the rotation and went a franchise-record 63-19 in the regular season. But they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the West finals.
"All the players on those teams would totally agree, that was our year," Porter said. "It was kind of established that a team had to get to the Finals once and lose. Then you got passed the torch, and the next year was your year. We came back (from losing in the 1990 Finals) with a mission and got off to such a great start (15-1) and finished the regular season great, too (16-1). We felt really good going into the playoffs, but we lost to the Lakers. That was the year we should have won the championship, but we came up short."
Porter considers Kersey his favorite teammate during his time in Portland.
"We came from similar backgrounds," he said. "We hung out together from our first training camp. We had a lot of the same challenges coming up, a lot of the same doubters about whether we'd make it in the NBA. I related to him the most. We built a pretty good relationship. I just loved him."
Porter played for three Hall of Fame coaches in the NBA — Ramsay, Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich. Whom would he regard as the best coach he played for?
"I'd lean toward Rick Adelman (in Portland)," Porter said. "I learned a lot about diet and nutrition from Jack. He was before his time in that regard. Pat was so driven to be great. The motivation and determination he instilled in his teams had a strong influence with me. 'Pop' was of a military background, and he was so well-rounded compared to the other guys. Basketball wasn't his end all/be all. We talked about current events, about life.
"But I had a great relationship with Rick. Our relationship went back to my rookie year, when he was an assistant coach. We spent a lot of time at Tigard High School, working on my game. When he got the head job, I was willing to go through the wall for him. I enjoyed playing for him because of the relationship we were able to build. Rick is very deserving of being in the Hall of Fame. I'm rooting for him. I know I'll be there if that day comes."
Porter was twice a head coach in the NBA, with Milwaukee and Phoenix. He was 71-93 in two seasons with the Bucks and 28-23 when he was fired by the Suns.
"I didn't get the extra year I was deserving in both situations, to see if I could get things turned around," Porter said. "At the time of my release (in Phoenix), we were one of the top teams in the West. That was ownership having a different philosophy in style of play. I was disappointed in the outcome at both of those places. Both of (his coaching stints) were a little too short."
Porter said he has enjoyed coaching at the college level, but said the job is much different.
"The NBA is all about basketball," he said. "In college, there is recruiting, scheduling and the academic piece. And you are dealing with 18-year-olds. There are a lot of hormones going on that you have to manage.
"But you do have an opportunity to be more impactful. Dick Bennett (his coach at Wisconsin-Stevens Point) was very impactful in my life. It's teaching kids life lessons, the importance of being honest and showing them how hard work pays."
Lillard is a four-time All-Star who has moved into second place behind Drexler on the Blazers' career scoring list, and most consider him the greatest point guard in franchise history ahead of Porter. The two haven't spoken often, but count Porter as a fan and a player to whom he can relate — Porter from Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Lillard from Weber State.
"I love what he does," Porter said. "I love his game, his ability to shoot it. He's a lot more explosive than I ever was, and he has achieved more than I did from an individual standpoint. The idea of where he came from, how he goes about his work, how he has been able to embrace and love this city — a lot of those same things are similar to what I had back in my time. We are a lot alike.
"I love everything about him. I love watching him play. I think he is doing a great job of being one of the key guys for this franchise going forward."
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