Bill Schonely, the Trail Blazers radio broadcaster who uttered the exclamation “Rip City!” and unwittingly gave Portland a lasting nickname, died in his hometown last night. He was 93.
Schonely called more than 2,500 basketball games from 1970 to 1998, becoming a voice synonymous with the exploits of Blazers stars from Bill Walton to Clyde Drexler. Team founder Harry Glickman hired Schonely before the Blazers’ first season, and the pick stuck. His was the voice Portlanders heard when the team won its only championship in 1977, and the consoling presence when it finished agonizingly close to titles in the 1990s, only to fall to squads from Detroit and Chicago.
During those 28 years of play-by-play, Schonely became best known for his idiosyncratic turns of phrase: “Rip City,” most famously (the term describes a basketball ripping through the net, although Schonely himself described it as a arriving to him in a kind of unconscious fugue), but also “Bingo bango bongo” and the admonishment, “You’ve got to make your free throws.”
He continued as a team ambassador until last year, when Damian Lillard and other stars feted him at halfcourt. Schonely gave a moving speech to the crowd, recalling the people who played and watched alongside him.
“I just tried to do my job. and they’ve been a great, great group of people, very large now,” he said. “I’m very thankful for them. I hear from them all the time, somebody, ‘Hey, Schonz, do you remember this? Do you remember that?’ And I forget. I guess I did it, I don’t know.”
In the hours after his death was announced, Oregon sports media and fans flooded the internet with memories. Among them: U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “My friend Bill Schonely provided the soundtrack for generations of Trail Blazers fans and forever made our beloved Portland into Rip City,” Wyden wrote on Twitter. “I join all of Rip City in extending condolences to Bill’s wife Dottie & his entire family. RIP to a true Oregon legend.”
Schonely’s death is the second loss suffered by the Blazers organization in the past week. Longtime television cameraman John Curry died unexpectedly Thursday. He worked the baseline for 39 years.