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Hard work and a positive attitude can transform a burgeoning rookie into a championed all-star, but unsportsmanlike conduct—whether on or off the court —can turn a talented team of athletes into citywide villains. That’s exactly what happened to the Portland Trail Blazers of the early 2000s, a team commonly referred to as the “Jail Blazers.”
Last week, Willamette Week published a series of pieces encouraging Portlanders to reconsider their negative outlook on the “Jail Blazers.” That seems fair enough. After all, Portland is the whitest city in America and the outrage capital of the world. Plus, this city has the highest number of nerds who refer to any athletic activity as “sportsball” per capita. So all things considered, it’s fair to assume that Portland probably overreacted when a group of rich, Black athletes started wilin’ out in the early aughts.
And, honestly, a lot of the shit the “Jail Blazers” pulled seems sillier than anything else.
Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire hotboxed a Hummer while speeding down the highway. Obviously, they shouldn’t have been under the influence of marijuana while driving. I have a feeling, though, that Portlandians were more upset about the Hummer’s fossil fuel emissions than they were about the DUI. Besides, in a place like Portland, there were definitely other intoxicated hazards on the road that night, and it’s hard to tell which is more dangerous: a broke hipster drunkenly biking home on a fixed-gear bicycle, or two rich dudes getting high in a war machine.
Nedžad Sinanović and Ha Seung-jin got into a spindly brawl involving a broomstick, and few things entertain me more than the thought of two foreign stick figures duking it out with the contents of a janitor’s closet.
Derek Anderson once abandoned his team in the middle of a game to pick up food at a McDonald’s drive-through. And you know what? Good for him. We’ve all had jobs we hated, but Anderson was one of the few men brave enough to stand up and say, “Fuck this shit, I’m getting a McFlurry.” So as far as I’m concerned, Derek Anderson is both literally and figuratively a baller.
Darius Miles (a Black man) allegedly called his coach, Maurice Cheeks (also a Black man), the N-word. But in, like, a bad way, I guess? So…
Isaiah Rider was famously caught smoking weed out of a soda can in a city affectionately nicknamed Lake No Negro. And if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Rider also recorded “Funk in the Trunk,” the eleventh track from the 1994 hip-hop catastrophe B-Ball’s Best Kept Secret.
It was clearly written by the kind of guy who smokes weed from a can.
Obviously, none of these players behaved appropriately. Nonetheless, their actions certainly don’t seem to warrant a collective nickname as damning as the “Jail Blazers.” If anything, these antics sound less like criminal activity and more like scenes from the first half of Coach Carter.
Ultimately, it sounds like there were only three truly unforgivable assholes on the team.
Qyntel Woods was an animal abusing asshole who pleaded guilty to fighting pit bulls. And in addition to being an asshole, Woods must’ve been a special kind of stupid to try and pull that shit in Portland, a city that genuinely seems to care about pit bulls more than Black people.
Gary Trent assaulted his then-pregnant girlfriend. In addition to misdemeanor assault and felony domestic abuse charges, Ruben Patterson was forced to register as a sex offender after pleading guilty to attempted rape. But for some reason, that didn’t stop “Trader” Bob Whitsitt from offering the known predator a six-year, $34 million deal with the Blazers.
Woods, Trent, and Patterson all deserve condemnation, and there’s no reason to reexamine our disgust at their actions. And honestly, I don’t care if you still hate Isaiah Rider. After all, “Funk in the Trunk” is a really bad song. But there is one former player who was especially judged too harshly and definitely deserves reappraisal: Zach Randolph.
Randolph is a professional basketball player who’s had a long career full of goodwill and philanthropy. He’s also a former Blazer who famously punched his rapist teammate Ruben Patterson in the face.
At the time, many Portland sports fans judged Randolph and labeled him a violent man, because apparently punching a rapist was considered rude in the early 2000s. But all these years later, it turns out Randolph was just ahead of his time.
So if you take nothing else away from the slew of articles defending the “Jail Blazers,” just remember that Zach Randolph deserves credit for punching a rapist and Isaiah Rider is a shitty musician who needs to put the pop can down and buy a bong like a grownup.