When I first picked up the anthology Red Hot and Rollin', I turned to my husband, a native Oregonian. "So, do you remember the Blazer championship of '77?" I asked.
"Remember it?!" he spluttered. "It was one of the pivotal events of my life!"
My husband grew up in one of the 96 percent of Oregon households that on June 5, 1977, watched the Portland Trailblazers defeat the Philadelphia 76ers, 109 to 107, and take their first and only NBA championship. The Blazers were led by Bill Walton, a scraggly bearded, vegetarian Grateful Dead fan, and Portland had long viewed its only professional sports team with suspicion. But when the underdog Blazers started winning, Portland - and Oregon - gave in to Blazermania, cementing a sense of identity that endures 30 years later.
Local legend has it that on game day, churchgoers
left for Memorial Coliseum after the second hymn. A high school
commencement speaker interrupted his speech to report scores, and
graduates in caps and gowns at Oregon State University held
transistor radios to their ears. After the final win, an estimated
250,000 ecstatic fans paraded through the streets. The
championship, writes Dwight Jaynes, a longtime Portland sports
columnist and contributor to Red Hot and Rollin', "brought this
area together unlike anything before or since."
Red Hot and Rollin' is a messy, rollicking, and unabashedly nostalgic look at those weeks of fervent civic pride. Essays and interviews by Oregon writers reflect on both the political and personal meanings of the championship: Melissa Madenski remembers catching Blazermania while recovering from a divorce on the Oregon Coast, and feeling revived by the players' antic energy. The team's subsequent spells of disrepute only sharpen these writers' fondness for the time when the Blazers were heroes, and all of Oregon cheered as one. "For a long moment there in the long story of the coolest game," writes contributor Brian Doyle, "they were its Zen masters, and that was a gift."
Red Hot and Rollin': A Retrospection of the Portland Trail Blazers' 1976-77 Championship Season
Matt Love, editor.
136 pages, softcover (includes DVD of the 1978 documentary, Fast Break): $20.
Nestucca Spit Press, 2007.