Rip City Rewind
Seventeen years later, Kersey and Pack remember more than a title run.
The air was frigid in the arena that distant winter day during Portland’s 10 o’clock shoot around at Memorial Coliseum.
Luckily, Terry Porter came prepared.
“I can remember Terry walking in and shooting in his gloves with a scarf around his neck,” remembers Porter’s then Blazer teammate, Jerome Kersey.
“They had the ice skating rink underneath for the minor league hockey team and it would be freezing in there.”
On Wednesday night, those innocent memories of seasons gone by were merely a few of the several relived as the Portland Trail Blazers hosted the Phoenix Suns at Memorial Coliseum in preseason action. The game commemorated the Blazers return to Memorial Coliseum for the first time since Portland and Phoenix met in the NBA Playoffs back on May 2, 1995.
The Suns won that game and they went back to the future on Wednesday night with a 110-104 win. Some things never change.
It was the first in a “turn back the clock” season series marking the Blazers 40th anniversary in the NBA, with former players and coaches returning and new jerseys being worn. It’s also the end of an era for the 49 year old arena and those who called it home.
Before the Blazers moved into the Rose Garden in 1995, the “The Glass Palace” was the hardwood haven for Portland’s lone NBA Championship in 1977 and two failed Finals attempts against Detroit in 1990 and Chicago in 1992.
“To actually see a game in there – a Blazer game again – is going to bring back a lot of memories,” added Kersey, who now works for the organization as a team ambassador.
“It’s going to be a little sad because this will probably be the last time anyone plays in there.”
Recollections were built upon Clyde Drexler’s Blazermania and Bill Walton’s Rip City. But back during the 1991-92 season, Kersey and teammate Robert Pack – now and assistant coach with the New Orleans Hornets – learned life lessons from the relationships forged between those hallowed hoop walls and in search of an NBA title.
One was a veteran. The other was a rookie. Both feel like it was yesterday.
“I remember jogging around the court with those guys with me and it was amazing right then – to look around and see Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey and Danny Ainge. I mean, they taught me what it was like to start out in this league,” said Pack, who made Rick Adelman’s team as an undrafted rookie point guard out of USC.
“They helped me with an apartment and got me my first checking account, and I was a rookie so Terry made me do my duties. They were a big influence on me, and to look back on my rookie year taught me a lot about being a veteran later.”
Dubbed “Pac-Man”, the 6’1 Pack was a dunking highlight reel who quickly endeared himself to Portland for his hops and the energy he supplied off the Blazers bench. He went on to appear in 72 games where he averaged 4.6 points in his one year stay in Portland.
“We used to call him 15-footer because anything outside of 15-feet he wasn’t making,” Kersey said laughing.
“He loved to go in and dunk on guys. You just don’t think a guy his size jumps that high and he was strong with it. He was in better shape than probably anyone on the team. He was hungry. You knew what you were getting out of him every day. As a rookie, that is a lot to say.
“We needed a guy like that on our team to work against Terry (Porter) and Danny (Ainge).”
Much like Pack, Kersey – who averaged 12.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in 77 games that year – was also a fan favorite in Portland and a guy who often got lost in the shadows of Drexler and Porter. The 6’7 rugged small forward played 11 seasons with the Blazers before eventually winning an NBA Championship with San Antonio Spurs in 1999 during his 17-year career.
Unfortunately, the Chicago Bulls had Portland’s number in the ’92 Finals.
Despite finishing with the best record in the Western Conference (57-25), the Blazers fell prey to Michael Jordan and lost the series, 4-2, during Portland’s second trip to the NBA Finals in three years.
The loss still hurts.
“It brings back a lot of heartfelt memories – some good, some bad,” Kersey continued.
“You feel proud inside that you got the chance to play before 12, 666 people your whole career each game out. We sold out every time.”
Even so, how tough really was the journey to reach the NBA Finals – from training camp, through the preseason and on into the regular season and playoffs?
“It’s difficult to get there,” Pack explained, recalling his one shot at playing for a title.
“What I did was approached it with an attitude that each one of those guys came into camp with. It was a focus to get to the Finals. Everyone was mentally and physically ready. It takes a certain type of preparation to be able to go through that. You have to stand up to the challenge – from the coaching staff to the players. It’s something I remembered during my career and something I’ll remember as I start my coaching career. That’s what it takes to get to the NBA Finals.”
Those days are long gone for Kersey, 47 and Pack, 42.
The pinwheel has been officially passed on through ups and downs and into the hands of Brandon Roy’s “Rip City Uprise.”
Yet the common bond in Blazers history for Jerome Kersey and Robert Pack will forever be solidified not only through a friendship, but the long memorable journey along the way.
“Obviously we are all at different places in life right now,” Pack began.
“But back then were guys who just played basketball.”
Wendell Maxey is a freelance writer now in his third season covering the Portland Trail Blazers. You can read more of his writing at Beyondthebeat.net.