On Top Of The World
By DHawes22 Posted in: ripcity
The Trail Blazers had just dug themselves out of a two games to none deficit by winning three straight games over the Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia 76ers and were on the brink of bringing the Rose City its first NBA Championship. If you weren’t one of the lucky 12,666 with a ticket to the Glass Palace on that June 5th afternoon, then you found a way to be a part of history. Whether it was finding the nearest television set or tuning the dial on your radio, allowing the legendary voice of Bill Schonely to verbally illustrate the most memorable game ever played in the MC, a way was found.
While the number of people who claim they were inside the Memorial Coliseum for Game Six far exceeds that of the stated capacity, two fans not only have evidence of witnessing it live but found a way of their own that left each with a story that has lasted a lifetime.
15-year-old Tom Zauner, enjoying the NBA Finals with his father, cemented himself in Rip City lore by being captured in one of the most iconic images in Trail Blazers history. You know the one: two fans, standing tall atop the basket, looking down upon the sea of fans who stormed the court immediately after George McGinnis’ floater fell short, giving Portland the 109-107 victory.
Outside of Bill Walton’s jersey, the ultimate souvenir from the title-clinching game was the net. In fact, Tom had his sights set on that net for quite a while and had been blueprinting this move since the previous series against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Asked how they were the first and only two able to make it all the way up to the top of the hoop in a sea of thousands, Zauner recounts his story and if it weren't for Tom's father, he may have not made it in time.
“My father saw when that last shot went up, with 2.5 seconds left, and when it hit the rim, he said ‘Go!’ and pushed me.” Added Zauner, “And I attribute that to getting the head start, because I didn’t think I should go yet but he said ‘Go’ so I went.”
As is the case with any triumph, there is no glory without guts. Being perched high atop the backboard, surrounded by what must have felt like millions below, there was not only a real fear of the basket collapsing as they saw the goal opposite theirs go down before coming back up, but also of other fans, hanging onto the net for dear life trying to get their hands on the prize.
“I looked down and those guys were all hanging on to the net,” Zauner replied. “And I just grabbed it and just shook it out of their hands, and they just dropped one by one. Then it was all me. But it was scary. At 15 years old, it was a little intimidating.”
Unable to cut the net down, because he didn’t bring anything with him to do as much, Zauner had to remove the net from the rim, loop-by-loop. But the fight wasn’t over once he reached the ground, net secured tightly and all.
“Yeah, like he said guys had it from below. People grabbed it, because I put it around me when I dropped down,” Zauner said. “People fought over it. There was a lot of battling going on.”
Even though it was intimidating and he had bruises all over his chest from other people pulling so hard on the net, it was well worth it to him, saying “as time goes on, it gets more valuable to me.”
Pictured above are Dik Phillips (left) and Tom Zauner (right) meeting for the first time since that June 5th afternoon.
Would he ever do it again when the Trail Blazers win the title?
“I would give it a shot, you bet!” added Zauner. “I have four daughters so they might be outmatched this time [laughs].”
As for the net, Tom says it is in a plastic bag, Ziplocked and locked inside his safe ready at any time taken to be taken out and looked upon as a reminder of the day he stood on top of the world.
Editor's Note: When we originally ran this story, we listed Don Holden as the man on top of the backboard, behind Tom Zauner. Through further research and helpful comments on this blog and on our Facebook page, it came to our attention, that in fact it was Dik Phillips who was standing tall along side Tom that June 5th afternoon. Thank you.