Return To Rip City: Buck Brings Legitimacy
By DHawes22 Posted in: Blazers
The Trail Blazers name is synonymous with winning. From 1983 through 2003, Portland appeared in the playoffs a mind-blowing 21 straight times, second most in NBA history to the Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers (22). Throughout the Trail Blazers’ storied 41-year history, the fans of Rip City have had a lot of memorable teams to cheer for, but none more influential in connecting the team with the fan base quite like the group that was assembled for the 1989-90 season. And it all started with the acquisition of Buck Williams during that summer prior.
A lot of fans and media criticized the selection of Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft and still do so today. While MJ went on to become…well MJ, the Trail Blazers made the best out of the situation, trading the oft-injured Bowie as well as their own first round draft pick in 1989 (Mookie Blaylock) for Williams.
Adding Buck was just one of many important moves the Trail Blazers’ brass made that summer. Feeling as if it was time for a new identity, Portland decided to let go of some of their stars from the closing decade. Kiki Vandeweghe was sent east to New York in exchange for the Knicks’ first round pick in 1989 (Byron Irvin) and Steve Johnson was left unprotected in the expansion draft, resulting in his subsequent move to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ironically, one of five players Portland sent out for Vandeweghe in ‘84, Wayne Cooper, made his return to the Rose City as some much needed front court depth.
In addition to Byron Irvin, the Trail Blazers took a gamble on a young forward out of the University of Connecticut by the name of Cliff Robinson with the 36th overall pick. A sure-fire first round talent, Cliff saw his draft stock fall drastically due to reports of attitude problems, but picking Robinson was a no-brainer for the front office once he fell into their laps during the second round. To cap off one of the busiest and most productive offseasons ever, the Trail Blazers were able to lure the Croatian Sensation, Drazen Petrovic to Rip City, giving them – one through twelve – arguably the deepest roster in the Western Conference.
Coming off their fourth consecutive first-round playoff exit and a un-Blazer like 39 wins the season before, no one could have foreseen the biggest turnaround in franchise history. Not only did the Trail Blazers finish the season with 59 victories, most all-time at that point in time, but the additional 20 wins between seasons was the largest swing ever in Trail Blazers’ history. And how could the 20th anniversary season go wrong when the team decided to honor one of their all-time greats, Bill Walton, by retiring his No. 32 jersey
on opening night?
But not everything was rosy for the Trail Blazers in their nine-month journey. On the morning of December 16th, 1989, rookie guard Ramon Ramos was critically injured in an automobile accident, cutting his career as a professional basketball player short. Although Ramon never played a minute of regular season action, his fight to rehabilitate from the accident inspired his teammates to keep up their own fight on the hardwood.
Aside from the absence of Ramos, more so from a locker room perspective, the 89-90 campaign saw the Trail Blazers hit a lot of milestones, both as a team and individuals. During Portland’s December 26th contest in the Valley of the Sun, Clyde Drexler amassed his 10,000th point for his career, making him the team’s all-time leading scorer – a record he still safely holds to this day. Known for their home dominance in front of the loudest fans in the league, the Trail Blazers took the fans with them on the road, compiling a 24-17 mark away from the Glass Palace – the most road victories in history to that point.
And it was a four game in five nights Eastern Conference swing that the road warriors really started to make believers not only of themselves, but others as well, that they were a legitimate threat to win the whole enchilada. From March 6th through March 10th, Portland strolled into New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., knocking each out one-by-one. The road trip was just part of Portland’s season-high 10-game winning streak. They were peaking at the right time and the league was taking notice.
Heading into the final game of the season, the Blazers were firmly entrenched in the three seed out West with really nothing to play for. But the rival Lakers were in town and what better way to cap off the magical season than sending them packing down I-5 with their tails between their legs? Win No. 59, saw Portland put on a show in front of the BlazerManics, drubbing L.A., 130-88.
Finally, enjoy seeing Buck Williams hoop without the goggles
as this would be the last regular season game in which he didn’t sport the frames (more to come on that later).