Remembering Our First Big Man
By Kassandra Posted in: arvydassabonis, billwalton, Blazers, GregOden, JoelPrzybilla, kevinduckworth, Lakers, laruemartin, leroyellis, mychalthompson, sambowie, Sixers, tomowens, Wizards
He played 14 seasons in the NBA. He won an NBA title. He retired (eventually) in Portland.
He was the Portland Trail Blazers first starting center. He came before LaRue Martin, Bill Walton, Tom Owens, Mychal Thompson, Sam Bowie, Kevin Duckworth, Arvydas Sabonis, Joel Pryzbilla, Greg Oden and ... I guess, we'll see. He was our first big man, and he was pretty darn good for us.
LeRoy Ellis lost his battle with cancer yesterday, June 2, in Portland.
As the Blazers progress, I wonder how many understand the impact that our first starting center had on this franchise. We can't say that he just liked playing here for one out of 14 seasons because we want to. We can say that he liked Portland so much that, after a successful run in the tire industry in in southern, California, that he retired and settled in the Rose City.
We can actually say that about a lot of former Blazers.
Ellis was drafted in 1962 by the Lakers, for whom played the first four seasons of his career. He then went to Baltimore (then known as the Bullets) for four years before being selected by the Blazers in the expansion draft in 1970. Following that one season, he returned to the Lakers (hey, I guess no one is perfect) for a year and a half before finishing out his career with Philadelphia in 1976 (ironically, he potentially could have faced his former team, the Blazers, in the NBA Finals the following year had he not retired).
Statistically, his best season is the one he spent with the Blazers. He averaged 15.9 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
For his career, Ellis scored 10,176 (9.7) points, snared 8,709 (8.3) rebounds and 1,405 (1.3) assists during his 14-year career. He was durable too; in the first 13 years, he missed just 47 games (Ellis played just 29 games in his final campaign but, according to his NBA stat page, it appears he was used sparingly).
Ironically, Ellis was selected with the sixth pick in the 1962 draft -- 50 years ago -- which is the same number selection the Blazers hold in the NBA draft later this month (courtesy of the Brooklyn Nets).
During his senior year in college, at St. Johns, he won the Haggerty Award, which honors the all-metropolitan New York Division I men's college basketball player of the year. It is presented by the National Invitational Tournament and the Met Basketball Writers Association. Some consider it one of the oldest and most prestigious basketball awards in the country.
We use the term often: Once a Blazer, always a Blazer. The Blazers from that first year -- 22 years before I was born -- are lore in Rip City, and Ellis certainly belongs among Blazers lore for that first season alone. One can kind of wonder what our team might be like now if we had a guy in the middle giving us 16 points and 12 rebounds a game every night.
One of our original Blazers has fallen but, despite the sadness, Ellis' number 25 should always be a reminder of what impact a player can make in Portland. It was only one season, but as we can see; we got the best of LeRoy Ellis.
Rest now, Blazer; we'll take it from here.
In Kassandra's Words features blogs throughout the year. Comments and questions are welcome and encouraged. Seasons begin and end; players come and go; our Blazers are forever. Please follow on twitter: @PDXKass