I wrote about the passing of the great Harry Glickman — the father of professional sports in Oregon — last night and I don’t think I emphasized enough how difficult it was for him to bring Portland into the NBA.
And how hard it was to convince Portlanders that they lived in a big-league city.
This town had no history of supporting major-league sports in the late 1960s and convincing NBA owners that people weren’t still riding around our streets in covered wagons must have been a problem.
But it can’t be underestimated how hard it was to sell the NBA to this city, which had been in love with the collegiate Christmas tournament, the Far West Classic, for many years.
At the time, the NBA was a distant No. 3 or 4 behind pro baseball and football and maybe even hockey. College basketball was bigger, too.
And so even after Glickman got his team, drafted his players and set about selling tickets, you figure there would be some excitement about big-league sports arriving in Portland, right?
Well, not really.
There wasn’t even that initial rush of people you usually get for a premiere of some sort. Or a debut. Or a grand opening. Or just people who would someday want to brag, «I was there for their very first game.»
Portland wasn’t exactly going bonkers over having a team in the NBA.
The Trail Blazers‘ first regular-season game in Memorial Coliseum was Oct. 16, 1970. In those days, the arena, then state of the art, held about 12,000 for basketball.
So how many people showed up on opening night for the game against fellow expansion team, the Cleveland Cavaliers?
The place was less than half-full — 4,273.
Harry Glickman had some work to do. And he did it. He brought a world championship to Portland and a love affair with his basketball team that will outlive us all.
Harry Glickman knew Portland was ready for the NBA before anyone else originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest