Blazers broadcaster returns Friday for Portland-Chicago NBA game, after missing team's four-game trip

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: MEG WILLIAMS - Trail Blazers radio play-by-play voice Brian Wheeler will be back on the air when Portland plays Chicago on Friday night at Moda Center.Brian Wheeler will return to the microphone Friday night when the Trail Blazers play host to the Chicago Bulls at the Moda Center.

Wheeler, Portland's radio play-by-play voice since 1998, missed the club's recent four-game trip while dealing with effects of a non-life-threatening condition, which the veteran broadcaster calls a "painful male discomfort."

"I'm feeling better," Wheeler, 51, said Thursday. "I'm still not 100 percent. It's a slow progression, but it's moving in the right direction."

Wheeler had never missed a game during his 16 years as the Blazers' play-by-play man. His streak ended at 1,359 games.

"It wasn't so much the number," Wheeler said. "I've always believed if I left this earth tomorrow and people were talking at my funeral, they'd say when he committed to something, we could count on him. When the bell rang, I was there. More that than anything, I was proud of being able to do my job when there was a need to do it."

Wheeler began to notice a problem about two weeks ago. By last Wednesday's home date with Phoenix, the pain was approaching unbearable proportions. After the game, he went to a hospital emergency room and received treatment, but specialists were unable to diagnosis the problem with certainty.

He went home and packed, still planning to make the four-game trip that began last Friday at Boston.

"The Wednesday broadcast went fine," Wheeler said. "Anything that was essential to calling the game, I had no issues with. In fact, the call on Damian Lillard's (game-winning) layup ended up being the call of the night."

But after awakening Thursday morning, Wheeler decided to stay at home and get rest, treatment and doctors' help with the situation. Medication has alleviated the condition to the point where he feels he can return to the booth.

"I assumed if I ever missed a game, it would be because of laryngitis, bed-ridden flu, a death in the family, something like that," he said. "I didn't think it would be for something like this. But I'm glad I made the decision. Had I gone on the trip, I probably wouldn't be as far along as I am now, and I'd have less answers."

The Blazers used TV play-by-play voice Mike Barrett in a simulcast for their games at Boston and Toronto. Veteran Portland broadcaster Scott Lynn stepped in to handle radio duties with analyst Antonio Harvey for the contests at Brooklyn and Milwaukee as the Blazers completed their first sweep of a four-game trip since January 2003. Wheeler watched all four games in the Blazer broadcasting studio with broadcaster Jay Allen and producer Rich Patterson.

"It was weird," Wheeler said. "Rich was laughing about the fact that I was calling the game, anyway, in many respects.

"I was happy the team did so well. I sent (coach) Terry Stotts a text, saying, 'You guys obviously don't need me. The worst thing I can do is come back and mess things up.' "

Wheeler has not hosted his radio show (620 AM KPOJ), "Wheels at Work," since Nov. 13, but will return on Monday. He also intends to be with the Blazers for their one-game trip to Phoenix on Tuesday.

"I'm back," Wheeler said. "There's no hesitation about traveling. Our travel is light the next couple of weeks. I fully anticipate I'll be totally healed, or at least much further along."

On Wednesday night, Wheeler alerted Facebook friends about his condition and impending return. By Thursday afternoon, he had 375 likes and 75 comments.

"I'm flattered by the response of the people who have expressed care and concern," Wheeler said. "It's very nice they've done that."

When Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and the Bulls hit the Moda Center, Wheeler will be glad to be back in the saddle.

"I rarely depend on (broadcasting partner) Mike Rice for a ton of philosophical wisdom," Wheeler cracked, "but he said Wesley Matthews had a great streak going, missed a few games and nobody thinks any differently about him. So I'll start a new streak Friday night."

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