Unlike some of the more star-studded teams in the league, the Portland Trail Blazers are perhaps less spoilt for choice when it comes to determining the ‘Best Blazer’ in their franchise history. The debate for greatest Portland Trail Blazer of all-time essentially boils down to two players; Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler. Interestingly enough, both make rather different cases as to why they should be considered. While Walton only played 4 seasons with the Blazers, he brought Portland their only MVP title and NBA championship. Drexler, on the other hand, played a dozen years in Rip City at a high caliber but was not able to deliver a championship.
The Greatest Portland Trail Blazer of All-Time
For different reasons, no other player in Blazers history comes close to staking a claim for this accolade. Brandon Roy, once one of the most highly touted young guards in the league, saw his career collapse due to knee injuries. As unfortunate as his ongoing injury issues were, it represents the main issue as to why Roy’s name is not up for consideration.
LaMarcus Aldridge made a bold claim after his elite showing in the ’14 playoffs against Houston, that he ‘wanted to be the best Blazer. Ever.’ The very next summer, he took off to San Antonio, claiming the deal was to be closer to his family. Whispers of ring-chasing arose amongst fans, and regardless of whether they were correct or wrong, the move did ensure Aldridge could no longer push forward his case.
Damian Lillard is the only player on the team that can usurp Walton or Drexler in due time. Lillard plays with heart, vengeance, and passion. These intangible qualities make him a remarkable player. Lillard’s leadership skills and numbers he puts up that raise the potential for him to retire as the greatest Blazer of all time.
A month ago, Lillard said that he was willing to not win a ring if he couldn’t bring a championship to Portland. He oozes a sense of loyalty and is genuinely a player who can be around for the long run. However, Lillard is still too young to really be involved in this conversation as of right now. The two candidates ahead of him either won a ring or played in Portland for a long stretch.
Bill Walton – #1 Pick, ’74 Draft – Portland Trail Blazers
Walton, in this third year in the league, following on from 3 straight NCAA player-of-the-year awards, was pivotal in bringing a championship to Portland. At the age of 24, Walton averaged 18.6 PPG, 14.4 RPG, and 3.2 BPG and led the team to their only championship. Being the only Blazer to ever win an MVP title, Walton is undoubtedly the most decorated player in franchise history.
Although injuries hampered his chances of helping to create a dynasty in Portland, his four seasons at the franchise are some of their most storied. It goes without saying that without Walton, the Blazers may well still be without a ring today. Because of this, Walton’s jersey number (#32) was among the first to be retired.
Clyde Drexler – #14 Pick, ’83 Draft – Portland Trail Blazers
Unlike Walton, Clyde Drexler’s time in Portland was long and winding. In 12 seasons, Drexler averaged 20.8 PPG at a 0.498% clip to go with 5.7 APG. From 1990 to 1992, he led Portland to two NBA Finals appearances and a Western Conference final appearance. Not being able to get over that hump was more a reflection on the quality of the opposition that Drexler himself. After all, playing Detroit’s famous bad-boy Pistons along with Michael Jordan’s Bulls was simply too big a task.
In terms of individual ability and accolades, Drexler, an eight-time All-Star and 1992 All-NBA team fixture, arguably cleans up the race for being the greatest Trail Blazer of all time.
Both are Great, But in Different Ways
In terms of sheer ability, the brand of basketball that Drexler exhibited for such a long stretch in Portland is unmatchable by any player in franchise history. This is evident through the number of awards he won for himself; far more than any other player, along with the numbers he was able to consistently put up.
However, while Walton only shined for a couple of seasons, he was able to have enough of an impact to bring glory to Portland. The level of this achievement is not to be undermined; the summer of ’77 is perhaps the brightest in the history of Rip City. It is the one shining jewel in the cloud of one of the most unlucky teams in the league. Most notably with the passing on Michael Jordan for Sam Bowie, Kevin Durant for Greg Oden, and their star player in Brandon Roy succumbing to injury. The championship that Walton was able to provide is a representation of a bright past and spawns hope of what may be in the future.