Founding father: The man who brought the NBA to Portland
Talk with those whose lives were touched by Harry Glickman and, no matter the story, the sense of gratitude is clear.
From Bill Schonely: "Almost every time I was around Mr. Glickman was a special moment. He was a very, very special guy. He was loved by all."
From former Portland Buckaroos hockey player Tom McVie: "I believe that Harry Glickman made me more of a winner."
Glickman, who died June 10 at age 96, was a trail blazer, and a Trail Blazer, to the core. It was Glickman's gumption that made the Trail Blazers a reality in 1970. He was the team's first general manager and its guiding force for the first quarter-century of the franchise's existence — a period that included the 1977 NBA championship and two other trips to the NBA Finals.
Tributes to Glickman came from many.
Sen. Ron Wyden tweeted: "There would be no @trailblazers franchise in Portland without the foresight and dedication of my friend Harry Glickman."
Bill Walton penned a thank you to Glickman that, in part, read: "Thank you Harry, for your vision, passion, enthusiasm, work ethic, sacrifice, discipline, kindness, patience, and honor. Our lives are the result of your dreams, and your willingness to commit your life to fulfilling them. We are eternally grateful for what you have done."
Even after he retired from day-to-day club operations in 1994, Glickman was willing to pitch in when needed.
On Chris McGowan's second day on the job as the Trail Blazers president in 2012, Glickman took him on a tour of the city. During that car ride Glickman showed McGowan historic landmarks and places with ties to Blazers lore such as courts where Bill Walton would play pickup basketball.
"That was a great opportunity for me to spend time with him and learn about the city he was passionate about," McGowan said.
Glickman is survived by his wife, Joanne, son Marshall, daughters Jennifer and Lynn, grandsons Joel and Laz, and granddaughter Sydney.
With the uncertainty about when the Blazers will next play a home game, McGowan said the Trail Blazers have not yet decided how to best honor Glickman.
Interacting with Glickman at Blazers games and other community events, McGowan said he appreciated Glickman's personal touch and his vision for NBA basketball and other projects.
"The thing that stood out was his passion for the franchise," McGowan said. "He always wanted what's best for the franchise."
Truth is, Glickman always wanted big things for his hometown. A Lincoln High and University of Oregon graduate who served in World War II, he started out writing for the Oregon Journal before turning to promotions and bringing to Portland events ranging from boxing and the Harlem Globetrotters to a string of NFL preseason games.
The professional sports landscape — and this city — have changed significantly since Glickman's heyday. But McGowan said Glickman characteristics that resonate with him are the importance of having a vision and the belief that nothing is impossible.
It was Glickman's belief that Portland was a big league town that provided those of us who grew up here in the 1960s and '70s a team to root for. Before he convinced the NBA to add a franchise here, he ran the most successful hockey operation in the country — one that had Memorial Coliseum hopping and that provided this kid some of his earliest thrills.
Under Glickman's leadership, the Portland Buckaroos were a power in the old Western Hockey League, at the time considered the West Coast's close equivalent to the NHL.
Glickman brought the Buckaroos to Portland when Veterans Memorial Coliseum opened, and the club won the WHL's Lester Patrick Cup championship that first season. From then, until the league folded in 1974, the Buckaroos won three league titles, played in eight Lester Patrick Cup finals and finished with the best record in the league eight times.
McVie, who still lives in the area and is a scout for the Boston Bruins in his seventh decade in pro hockey, said Glickman saved his hockey career.
McVie, a fiesty forward, was in a contract squabble with the rival Seattle Totems when Glickman traded for him.
"My life changed when he made the trade and brought me to Portland," McVie said. "My whole career changed because of Harry Glickman."
Glickman took care of the Buckaroos players, including arranging for offseason jobs so that the players and their families could stay in Portland. For McVie, those jobs included working for a 7-Up distributor, as well as at Portland Meadows and Multnomah Kennel Club.
"At one time, there were more than 20 ex-Buckaroos living in the city because of Harry Glickman," McVie said.
Glickman helped McVie out of some jams, too. He cleared the way for McVie to get a green card so he could live and work in Portland.
Then there was the birth of McVie's second son, Dallas. When McVie went to Emanuel Hospital to try to set up a payment plan for the cost of the birth, he learned that Glickman had paid the bill.
"Even now, it almost brings tears to my eyes to think about that," McVie said. "Nobody has done more for the McVie family than Harry Glickman."
Glickman turned to Seattle for another Portland icon, Schonely. The birth of the Trail Blazers came on the heels of the Seattle Pilots moving to Milwaukee and becoming the Brewers.
Schonely, who was the radio man for the Buckaroos rival Seattle Totems, was the voice of the Pilots during their one season in Seattle.
"I thought I was going to be in baseball for the rest of my life," Schonely said. "Well, Harry found out that I was available so he called me. In his big, basso profondo voice he said, 'Shonz, how would you like to do NBA basketball?'"
Schonely came to Portland for a meeting that lasted all of "five or six minutes."
"He said, 'I want you to be the voice of the Portland Trail Blazers,'" Schonely said, recalling the start of a five-decade friendship.
"We shook hands — we had nothing in writing — and I went from baseball to NBA basketball because of Harry Glickman, who in essence sent my broadcasting career onward," Schonely said.
A handshake with Harry Glickman was as good as a contract — perhaps better.
Before the Blazers became a reality — a project Glickman worked on for more than a decade before succeeding — he was ready to make Portland a pro football town. One story goes that Glickman had a deal with friend Pete Rozelle to have an NFL team occupy a dome stadium in Delta Park. But in 1964 Portland voters voted down the bond to build the Delta Dome — ending that dream.
Portland is now a much bigger place than it was when Glickman convinced the NBA and out-of-town investors Herman Sarkowsky, Larry Weinberg and Robert Schmertz that pro basketball would be a success here. The metro area population hovered around a million and ranked 35th in the nation back in 1970. The NBA had teams in only 14 cities before adding Portland, Cleveland and Buffalo for the 1970-71 season, so there were plenty of bigger markets out there.
But Glickman always thought of his hometown as big league.
"He wanted to do something for this state," Schonely said. "His proudest moment, of course, was bringing a professional sports team to Portland. I'm going to miss him."
Those of us who grew up listening to Schonely would have missed a lot of magic had Glickman not brought Portland the Trail Blazers.
Jim Taylor, the Blazers VP of Communications in his 22nd season with the club, grew up following the Blazers. He spoke for many of us when he said:
"Can any of us really imagine what life would be like had Harry Glickman not had the vision, passion and steadfast determination to bring the NBA to Portland?
"On and on throughout time we'll have Harry to thank. There will be triumphs and heartbreak, just as there has always been, but that's the gift of life. Simply appreciating that we got to experience it all. We were there! So thanks, Harry. Thanks for the memories and all the memories yet to come. You did a masterful job and we're all forever grateful."
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