Blazers fans hate the same way they love—with a passion bordering on the irrational.
And while fan antipathy reached record levels with the Jail Blazers squad, scapegoating players is a Portland tradition as old as the franchise—and one that continues into this season.
"Portland is interesting in that fans seem to pick a fringe player to hate and a player to love each season," says Dane Carbaugh, a Seattle-based NBA writer for NBC Sports.
It's not always exorbitant technical fouls and drug violations that'll land a player on the hometown shit list, either. Sometimes, it's as arbitrary as wearing more hair gel than is generally acceptable.
To put the Jail Blazers era in perspective, we looked at five of the most disliked players in franchise history—and only one of them was on the most infamous team.
LaRue Martin (1972-1976)
Not only was Martin the first Blazers center to flame out in depressing fashion, he was the first No. 1 overall selection in history to get labeled a "bust." It wasn't injuries. He just sucked. He averaged only 5 points and 4 rebounds per game for his career, and had a reputation for being emotionally fragile. Before he came along, it was unfathomable that a team could totally whiff on the top pick, which is probably why local media were questioning his ability to survive in the NBA 10 games into his rookie season. He was out of the league within four years. The organization quickly corrected its mistake by drafting Bill Walton in 1974 and winning a title, leaving Martin a footnote. Old-school fans remember him derisively as "LaRue Who?"
Rod Strickland (1992-1996)
As a high-level point guard with "character issues," Strickland kicked off the citywide pearl-clutching that would follow in the next decade. During his previous stint in San Antonio, he broke his hand during a bar fight, was accused of indecent exposure, and constantly showed up late to practice. Shortly after he signed with the Blazers as a free agent, an Oregonian sports columnist declared the signing a mistake, predicting he'd contaminate the locker room "with his immaturity, his moaning, his mercurial personality," and WW ran a cover story with the headline, "Will Rod Strickland Tarnish the Blazers' Public Image?" In his four years with the team, Strickland mostly stayed in the fans' good graces, at least until he started aggressively beefing with coach P.J. Carlesimo and publicly demanded a trade. He eventually got one, getting shipped to Washington in exchange for a promising young forward with a slight temper named Rasheed Wallace.
Qyntel Woods (2002-2004)
It's hard to pick the Jail Blazerest Blazer, but there's a strong case to be made for Woods. "He was a first-round draft bust that got caught smoking weed in 2003 during a traffic stop in which he offered up his own trading card as identification," Carbaugh says, "a move which I admit I'm not sure is incredible, insane or both." Then, after somehow surviving a roster purge the following season, he was convicted of animal abuse, for which he was sentenced to a year of probation. As WW wrote at the time, "The city will forgive a lot, but mess with a dog and you're done." It's still astonishing. "This man allegedly had a dogfighting room above his garage in his house in Lake Oswego," Carbaugh says. "Lake. Oswego. This guy fought pit bulls."
Raymond Felton (2011-2012)
To be fair: A lot of things were working against Felton during his lone season of ignominy in Portland. It was the year Brandon Roy retired and Greg Oden was finally waived, leaving what was once the NBA's Next Big Team as a bunch of randos plus LaMarcus Aldridge. Still, it didn't help that he showed up with the physique of an out-of-work auto mechanic, led a mutiny against coach Nate McMillan and, to quote former WW news editor Hank Stern, "put in less effort than a corpse." (He also offered to physically fight the media outside his Pearl District condo.) To this day, it's hard to find another ex-Blazer who engenders the same level of antipathy. Booing him when he swings through town on a new team is an annual event.
Meyers Leonard (2012-present)
With the franchise currently stuck in NBA purgatory—too good for the lottery, not good enough to seriously contend for a title—the tall, toothy, well-gelled Illinois product has emerged as a conduit for the angst surrounding the team's inertia. It's disproportionate. Sure, he's probably going to find himself in China sooner rather than later, but he hardly plays enough to impact games, and the insults flung his way have the tenor of aggrieved nerds lashing out at the homecoming king. "My experience with fans who still spend time denigrating Meyers Leonard is that they tend to be dudes with less than 100 Twitter followers, an avi of a Subaru WRX, and handles like @PDXripZERS77," Carbaugh says. "They're still making ad hominem 'jokes' about his hair."
Whether deserved or not, the discontent with Leonard has advanced from social media grumbling to full-on booing, prompting Leonard to snap back: "I think it's pretty bogus." It isn't always so bogus, though: When he checked into the first game after his dog died, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. C'mon, we're not monsters.