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WW’s “Best Free Speaker” in 2001 Was Kicked Out of the Rose Garden for Demanding the GM’s Trade

“I wish everyone could experience this.”

Neil Olshey isn’t the first general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers to be the object of public scorn. In 2001, civic ire was directed at “Trader Bob” Whitsitt, who constructed a roster as well known for felony charges as slam dunks. WW’s July 18, 2001, “Best of Portland” issue featured a prominent critic of Whitsitt.

This year’s Best of Portland cover person, Katherine Topaz, launched the shot heard round the Rose Garden during the NBA playoffs on April 29, when she and her boyfriend’s son, Will, refused to surrender a hand-painted sign urging the Portland Trail Blazers’ organization to “TRADE WHITSITT.”

The story took off quicker than Alan Iverson—playing itself out across the globe in the pages of Sports Illustrated and on the air of CNN and ESPN. No fewer than eight burly security guards were sicced on the diminutive (5-foot-2) fetching (yowza on that cowboy hat and those tattoos!), 34-year-old graphic designer. A full account of this day of infamy in the life of Topaz’s beloved professional basketball team could be found at www.tradewhitsitt.com.

In a city filled with increasingly meek, timid passive-aggressives, Topaz stood out as a loud resister. Alone among hundreds of thousands of Blazers faithful, she jammed team brass with all the grace and force of Magic Johnson.

We may be biased, but—hey!—we got to work alongside Katherine for the better part of the ’90s when she was WW’s award-winning art director. Here’s a woman deeply skilled in sophisticated design techniques, yet her boldest statement to date is a single, two-color, hand-painted piece of posterboard.

There are other reasons to paste Topaz’s mug atop this year’s “Best of Portland” issue. For one thing, we admire the way she refused local lawyers’ offers to sue the team. And we respect her steadfast refusal to cash in on her sudden fame. You didn’t see Topaz out hawking T-shirts or demanding personal-appearance fees. Rather, she unhesitatingly wrapped her arms around an important moment in the life of our community and got her message across.

“Everything,” she explains, “just happened to be in place to turn this into the POOF! It became. I got to go along for the ride. I wish everyone could experience this.”

Best of all, exults Topaz, “they changed the policy.” So next year, if the Blazers are to be believed, Katherine and Will can return to section 107, row KK—sign in hand.