On a November night in 1999, Arvydas Sabonis won Portland Trail Blazers fans their first free chalupas with a basket against the Los Angeles Clippers. Will Barton provided the last with a jumper against the Lakers this spring.
In the 14 seasons between, the Blazers handed out more than 3 million coupons for free Taco Bell products—one per fan each time the team scored 100 points or more.
By the time the front office announced last week Taco Bell had ended the promotion, the chalupa was arguably the most popular member of the team. The giveaway provided casual fans with something to cheer about, and kept the crowd engaged during blowouts. (The team says it will soon reveal a new promotion.)
The incessant fourth-quarter chant—“Cha-lu-pa! Cha-lu-pa! Cha-lu-pa!”—irritated sportswriters, altered the careers of benchwarmers, and fed the homeless. We remember the tradition in the words of those who were there.
“For probably three or four years, I just gave the coupon to my employees. But I eat out for lunch every day, so what I do is I [use] a chalupa coupon once a week. And I get a taco. And I’m an old guy, so I get a free Diet Coke. So that’s a good deal for me. I do that once a week, on Tuesdays. It’s nice to get something for nothing…. When they reach 100 points, they’re usually ahead, or close to being ahead. That’s usually the time I do some dancing.” —Season-ticket holder Bruce Jeremiah, aka “Blazer Bruce”
“That 2008-2009 team, those were the salad days of Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Sergio Rodriguez. I remember a game against the Utah Jazz; Travis Outlaw was at the line with 98 points. Hits the first one: 99. Misses the second one. No chalupa. Travis ran back and kind of held his head down a little bit. The guys on the team really wanted to be the guys who scored the chalupa buckets. It was a really sweet team. There was no one to make ’em feel like it was dumb to be happy about that kind of stuff.” —Casey Holdahl, digital reporter for the team
“It feels good to give the fans Taco Bell.” —Reserve forward Luke Babbitt, after hitting a 3-pointer on Jan. 24, 2012. It’s his first basket in 265 days and the chalupa-securing points. He soon becomes an Internet phenomenon.
“Sorry to the fans for the chalupas.” —Starting point guard Raymond Felton, after missing two free throws with the team at 99 points on March 29, 2012. He soon becomes among the most hated players in Blazers history.
“If I had known, I would have missed the shot on purpose.” —Babbitt to The Columbian on April 16, 2012, reacting to his newfound stardom. He now plays on a Russian team.
“I said to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could just fill the Rose Garden up with homeless people? Then everybody would get a free meal tonight.’ Obviously, that wasn’t going to work. Then I said, ‘Why don’t I just be the middle man on this?’ I got as many volunteers as I could to stand outside and collect coupons, and redistribute them to outreach agencies. Not only to provide a warm meal for these people—using a chalupa coupon also made them a Taco Bell customer, which entitled them to use of the restroom.” —Jessie Sponberg, activist
“When I think of chalupas, I think of an overeager Rudy Fernandez bonking totally unnecessary 3-pointers off the front rim. I hope the next promotion manages to make fans smarter rather than dumber. Maybe everyone should get free Burgerville shakes when the Blazers take five high-percentage shots in a row.” —Casey Jarman, former WW Blazers correspondent, now managing editor of The Believer
“Are you kidding me!?! No! Screw you Moda Center!” —Brandon Geiger, fan, on Twitter
“I’m actually kind of pro-getting rid of
it. The amount of backlog it causes is almost horrendous—you have to
wait five or 10 minutes to even get out of the stadium. And sometimes
it’s a classier move to not score on another team. Say you have 99
points and you’re up by 15, it shows a little bit of old-school class
not to make that extra point just to get your fans a chalupa.” —Season-ticket holder Rob Ems, aka “Free Throw Guy”