For the famously sentimental Blazers faithful, every era of the team is an era worth remembering. (Unless it involves Raymond Felton, of course.) Some, though, stick out in the franchise's lore more than others.
The 1977 championship squad. The Clyde the Glide years. The Jail Blazers. Whatever we're calling those few cumulative weeks when Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge all managed to play together at the same time.
It's those eras even casual fans have fond feelings toward, and which wcertainly be celebrated during this upcoming 50th anniversary season. But between those periods of success and infamy, there are many other, more fleeting moments that have slipped through the cracks of history, without a championship or deep playoff run or Rasheed Wallace yelling at officials to enshrine them in the collective consciousness.
There are the awkward transitional years, after one star leaves and before another arrives. There are the times when injuries have intervened to completely, if temporarily, remake the team. Some last multiple seasons, others just a few months.
As quickly as many of them passed, those "micro-eras" are part of the story of the Blazers, too. With the organization reaching the half-century mark, we wanted to look at some eras of the team that won't be represented on any of the many highlight reels you're likely to see this season. MATTHEW SINGER.
The Billy Ray Era
Years active: 1980-1982
Key players: Billy Ray Bates, Calvin Natt, Jim Paxson, Mychal Thompson
The 1979-80 season marked the final, grinding transition between the last vestiges of coach Jack Ramsay's title team and the impending stretch of mediocrity before the arrival of Clyde Drexler. No player exemplified that split more than Bates, a powerful, often game-changing guard Portland signed midseason out of the Continental Basketball Association. His raw talent gave fans sporadic hope of a return to glory. Ultimately, though, the team waived Bates in 1982—setting the stage for years of .500 lowlights but leaving behind an impressive highlight reel.
Highlight moment: A few months into the 1980-81 season, Bates' otherworldly talent and Ramsay's playmaking aptitude melded for an incredible buzzer-beater against a Philadelphia squad that still had stars from the team Portland beat in the '77 finals. HANK STERN.
The Uncle Cliffy Experience
Years active: 1994-1996
Key players: Cliff Robinson, Rod Strickland
NBA Twitter would have loved Cliff Robinson. A second-round pick in 1989, Uncle Cliffy started his career as a super-sub known for his highlight-worthy dunks and shot-blocking skills. Robinson was a trendsetter—he was the first Blazer to wear a headband, the first to be suspended for smoking pot, and one of the first big men in the league to embrace shooting 3s. Midway through the 1994-1995 season, the team honored Clyde Drexler's request for a trade and turned the keys over to Robinson. The results were…underwhelming. Still, with Robinson bombing from deep and new point guard Rod Strickland breaking ankles, it was pretty damn fun.
Highlight moment: The 1995-96 team somehow won 18 of its final 22 games to finish the year at 44-38 and make the playoffs for the 14th straight year. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
The Baby Jail Blazer Era
Years active: 1997-1998
Key players: Isaiah "J.R." Rider, Brian Grant, Arvydas Sabonis
Nobody remembers the year before a team makes the leap. The lockout-shortened 1998-99 season saw Portland make it all the way back to the Western Conference Finals, but the genesis of the beloved Jail Blazers era began in the fall of '97, with new coach Mike Dunleavy inheriting a mishmash roster featuring J.R. Rider doing his best Michael Jordan imitation, Brian Grant hustling his way into the hearts of the fan base, and Arvydas Sabonis at his NBA peak, throwing no-look dimes from the top of the key. A midseason trade for hometown hero Damon Stoudamire provided a brief jolt of optimism, but the season ended with another first-round playoff loss to the Lakers.
Highlight moment: Sabas hitting a ridiculous, off-balance, flat-footed 3 to force overtime in a November game against the Phoenix Suns. Holy Lithuania! MM.
The Quick and the Mouse Era
Months active: January-March 2005
Key players: Damon Stoudamire, Nick Van Exel
The 2004-05 Blazers were going nowhere. Stuck between hefty contracts and a youth movement, coach Mo Cheeks was looking for something to excite fans and keep the team relevant. On Jan. 10, against Allen Iverson's 76ers, Cheeks started a new backcourt: the undersized duo of longtime Blazer Damon Stoudamire and the aging, just-signed Nick Van Exel. And for a short stretch, they shined, delivering no-look passes and impulsive, on-target 3-pointers from the no man's land now called Dame Territory. In an otherwise dispiriting era for Blazer fans, their early outings were uncharacteristically fun. But the winning was short-lived. The Blazers dropped 25 of the 33 games the tandem started, and by the end of the season, Cheeks, Stoudamire and Van Exel were all gone. It was one of the shortest-lived backcourts in NBA history—and for a while, it was absolutely glorious.
Highlight moment: On Jan. 14, in a barren New Orleans arena, Stoudamire scored a then-Blazers record 54 points, while Van Exel chipped in 23 points and 11 assists. The game featured so little defense it prompted the Hornets play-by-play guy to announce: "I've been doing this about 20 years. I have never seen anything like this." CASEY JARMAN.
The Improv Era
Months active: February-April 2011
Key players: LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, Andre Miller, Gerald Wallace, Wes Matthews
It was barely a team and it lasted only half a year. After Brandon Roy was sidelined with one of his last knee injuries, the ball moved into the hands of Miller, the league's all-time leader in not exercising during the summer. The Blazers traded for Wallace, a genuine lunatic, and Aldridge got stuck at center. Matthews and Batum were the ideal 3-and-D wing player combo two seasons before anyone figured out how valuable that was. They played 300 or so minutes together and absolutely crushed everyone in their path, dragging the Blazers to a sixth seed and losing to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. Unfortunately, the organization somehow thought Raymond Felton was the missing piece to put them over the top. That error ended up gifting the team Damian Lillard, but it's hard not to speculate what might have been if this mad experiment had been given a year to breathe.
Highlight moment: The nightly Miller-to-Aldridge alley-oop. Young LaMarcus was too fast, Miller was too clever—it was always a guaranteed 2 points. CORBIN SMITH.
SEE IT: The Blazers home opener vs. the Denver Nuggets is at Moda Center, 1 N Center Court St., on Wednesday, Oct. 23. 7:30 pm. $25 and up.