We’ll get back to recapping exhibition games, making too much of each individual practice, and speculating on the return dates of injured Portland players a little later. I’ve got to switch things up for a moment. I have to give a tip of the cap to the one and only Mike Rice, my insanely-popular partner on the TV broadcasts.
After all, it has now been 20 years since he was hired to be the radio analyst for the team. This will be his 21st season behind the microphone in Portland.
Maybe you know the story, and maybe you don’t. Let me take you all the way back.
It was a tryout at the 1991 Blazers Slam n’ Jam at Civic Stadium that helped the team decide to offer the radio-analyst job to Rice. The team was in need of a new sidekick for Bill Schonely, and four different guys each got one quarter of the exhibition game to show their stuff. Former NBA referee Earl Strom, former Blazer assistant coach Jack McKinney, former Oregon State standout Mark Radford, and Rice, were in the running for the job.
Marshall Glickman, who was running things for the Blazers at the time, decided to leave the decision up to Schonely.
“Marshall put this all together,” Schonely told me the other day. “Each guy had a quarter to make their case. Radford was good, Strom was entertaining, and McKinney would have been fine choice as well. But, Rice was clearly the best. He’d had some experience from working at ESPN, and he was the guy.”
So, rather than coming from the very top, the decision was put entirely in the hands of The Schonz.
“Marshall came to me after the game and said ‘you name it- you pick the guy you want.’ I selected Rice and I don’t really know what happened after that. It’s been 20 years already? I created a monster!”
Rice packed his bags, moved out to Portland, and the rest is history. He has worked on the radio broadcasts with The Schonz, Eddie Doucette, and Brian Wheeler. A few years ago he made the switch to TV, and he’s about to enter his sixth season calling the action by my side. I should probably say, I’m by his side.
Rice had started in the broadcast booth back in 1987, and worked college games on ESPN, as a regular on the “Big Monday” lineup. He also worked women’s NCAA regional championship games, the Division II championship game, and high school all-star games. In 1989, he also started broadcasting for SportsChannel America, as the primary analyst for the World Basketball League.
The WBL was familiar territory for Rice, as he was the head coach of the Youngstown Pride (current OKC coach Scotty Brooks was on the team), and later was their director of basketball operations.
Rice was a very successful high school basketball coach for 13 seasons, and compiled a record of 245-71 (.773). In 1977 Rice joined the college ranks, as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Duquesne. He was named the head coach of the Dukes the next season, and led them to a record of 62-49 from 1978-1982. During that stint, Rice twice earned Eastern Eight “Coach of the Year” honors (having Norm Nixon on his team didn’t hurt). In 1982, Rice moved on to Youngstown State, where he led the Penguins to a 20-win season, and twice reached the title game in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Yes, he also played the game, earning honorable mention All-America honors at Duquesne, and leading his team to a third-place national ranking. After college, Rice was selected in the eighth round of the 1962 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. We’ve given him a hard time about being an eighth-round pick from time to time, but as he correctly points out, given the number of teams in the league back then, his draft position basically equates to him behind a second-round pick today. He went the coaching route instead.
Rice’s wife, Kathy, is a former standout on the Duquesne women’s basketball team.
Mike and Kathy have a great marriage, even after all these years, and have raised very successful children. They have two daughters, Susan and Stephanie, who both graduated from Syracuse University, and were college tennis players (one is still a tennis pro). Their son, Mike, played college basketball at Fordham in New York, and then decided to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Mike, Jr. has been an assistant coach at Fordham, Marquette, Niagara, St. Joseph’s, and Pittsburgh. He then served as the head coach at Robert Morris, leading them to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, and a near upset of Villanova in the first round of last year’s tourney. Over the summer, Mike accepted the head coaching job at Rutgers, and is about to begin his first season in New Jersey. He’s just as competitive as his old man, and obviously has quickly made his way up the college-coaching ladder. He had a good teacher. My dad was also a coach, and I’m almost exactly the same age is Mike, Jr. That’s probably one of the reasons we get along so well.
As many people know, Rice doesn’t like sitting still. For a guy in his 70s (he doesn’t like to talk about his age so I won’t go too specific) his activity level is pretty remarkable. He plays either tennis or golf nearly every day, despite multiple knee surgeries (nine, to be exact, on his right knee). He’s become one of the most well-known media personalities in the Northwest, and is adored by Trail Blazer fans.
Rice has an enthusiasm for the NBA game that is practically unmatched, and a knowledge of the game that is the envy of his peers. He’s also as intense a competitor as you will find, even if that passion has gotten him in trouble at times. If he thinks someone has gotten the better of him, or the better of the team he loves, look out. Perhaps it’s a mother-hen complex, I’m not sure.
As many people know, Rice holds the distinction of being the only radio analyst in NBA history to have been ejected from a game. He happily recounts the famous night in Indiana to anyone who asks. Steve Javie still doesn’t care to talk about it, but Rice wears it like a badge of courage. It’s been like 15 years since it happened. Terry Porter was there that night and also loves to tell the story.
We’ve joked on the air before that Rice has gotten close to getting tossed since then, but that’s not really true. The fact is, from what I’ve seen, he’s got a lot of friends in the officiating business. Some of the more veteran NBA refs, the ones who have really been around a while, always come by to greet him before games. Bob Delaney’s usual move is to come by our broadcast position before games and sarcastically toss Rice his whistle.
While we’ve long threatened to organize a “Rice Roast,” (Wheels’ idea) and could probably sell tickets, I’m taking a different road in this blog. The man deserves to be honored, and I just wanted to use this forum to let you guys know that he’s hit the big 2-0 with the franchise.
Despite the fact that Rice is a larger-than-life character, and certainly brings his own unique style to the broadcasts, there’s one fact that I think is undisputable- he’s a very, very good analyst. I’ve been around the game of basketball my entire life and he still sees things that amaze me. I’m not alone in that.
You might be surprised to know, many times over the years, I’ve seen Blazer coaches (yes, at times, the head coach) take Rice aside to get his take on things. Former Blazer assistant Jim Lynam told me, a couple of seasons ago, that when he wants to get a scouting report on the Blazers, and wants to know what’s going on with the team, he turns the volume up on one of our broadcasts (on League Pass) and listens to Rice.
I get a lot of Blazer-related questions when I’m out in public, as you might expect, but one of the most frequently-asked questions is, “what’s it like to work with Rice?” That’s usually followed up with, “is he same off the air as he is on the air?” The first answer is, obviously, it’s fantastic. The second answer- he’s exactly the same on and off the air. We talk basketball constantly. It would amaze you (and probably bore you to tears). Sometimes it’s a late-night phone call out of the blue, or it’s a three-hour conversation on a long flight.
This is also true, and maybe a little odd, but he’s one of my best friends. I know, he’s 30+ years my senior, but I’ll always regard these years working with Rice, no matter what the future holds, as “the good old days.”
Seriously, I could go on and on and on. But, the main reason for bringing this up is to congratulate the “Wild One” on 20 years in the chair. I hope there are many more to come.
Here's a quick video of some Rice moments from the last couple of seasons. Thanks to Jeff Curtin and John Lukrofka for putting it together.