It came from Ralph Lawler.
Now 84, Lawler was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019 after 40 years with the Los Angeles Clippers. A stately fixture at the sideline table with his neatly trimmed mustache and a microphone in hand, always in hand, Lawler was often the only source of positivity for the long-lost Clippers. He called more than 3,000 games for that franchise, many of them alongside a towering, verbose redhead named Bill Walton.
Most of those 3,000 were losses. Half of them were on the road.
In his later years, the Clippers didn’t just put him on the team plane, they also saved a seat for his wife, Jo.
Because they knew how important Ralph was to the Clippers and to their fans, that was their gift to him.
After he retired, he and his “Sweet Jo” left Southern California and settled in Bend.
His thoughts on the Blazers’ new strategy?
“It sure makes me realize I retired at the right time,” Lawler wrote.
If I heard from a Hall of Famer like Lawler, then I wonder who Blazers president Dewayne Hankins heard from. Was it the people who filled my inbox: Marvin and Jesse and Tom and Brian and Ann Marie and my Aunt Jan? Maybe it was Chris, who wrote, “I hope they reverse this decision — Blazers fans have been through enough.”
Whoever it was, the Blazers listened.
“We’ve heard all the fans,” Hankins told radio hosts Chad Doing and Dwight Jaynes on Monday night.
The Doing and Jaynes duo get credit for first highlighting the issue last week and spurring a revolution among the Blazers faithful. But the team itself gets the most props for being willing to change.
Hankins insisted that before last week’s eruption of feedback the Blazers were still considering their options, which included only sending ace sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam or only traveling the TV broadcasters and leaving the radio voices at home.
But the wheels were very clearly in motion. The reaction from the fanbase stopped those deliberations in their tracks.
Now, when the Blazers open the season Oct. 19 in Sacramento, you’ll hear the game called by people who are there. Kevin Calabro, Lamar Hurd and Olzendam on Root Sports and Travis Demers and Michael Holton on KPOJ-AM. They’ll all be on the ground.
It’s a good reminder that fans still have power in what, especially in recent years with the Trail Blazers, has often felt like an unrequited romance.
“Our fans really feel like they own the team and that’s something I think I need to remember,” Hankins said.
It’s a good day for democracy in sports.
I got asked by people around the NBA this week if I thought the Blazers would cave. I didn’t know. But I feared that management would stubbornly want to prove that they had the right idea and force through a bad idea.
They didn’t. And that speaks well of the people currently making decisions.
In Los Angeles, Lawler’s Law is the covenant that states the first team to score 100 points wins a game. In Portland, the Blazers raced to do a 180 and, in the process, got it 100% right.
Before Lawler retired, the media entrance at the then-Staples Center was renamed in his honor.
He just missed broadcasting through the pandemic. No question, he would have hated being away from the team.
“It makes no sense for the announcer,” he said. “So much valuable material is picked up on the road. I seldom talked to the players about basketball and the planes, buses and shootarounds were fertile ground to garner story after story about a player’s life, interests, family, etc. There was no better place than the road to pick up these jewels.”
The exasperated Hall of Famer added, “Don’t get me started.”
Thankfully, Ralph can stand down.
We all can.
Technology has changed greatly in the four decades since Lawler first started calling Clippers games. A few years back, a family member found an old record celebrating the Blazers’ 1977 championship. When I put it on the turntable, Bill Schonely’s voice cut through the din of delirious fans.
Was it the best audio quality I’d ever heard? Certainly not. But it was Schonely straining to be heard among the celebrating masses that made it so sweet.
We shouldn’t defeat the Blazers for trying to push the envelope with their broadcast. Hankins explained that he envisioned using stats from analytics provider Second Spectrum to provide real-time numbers.
Do I think the average fan needs Damian Lillard’s changing field goal percentage floating over his head as he moves from spot to spot on the court? Not really. I don’t think that’s what a general audience craves. But it nevertheless sounds like the Blazers have some innovative ideas, and I hope we still get to see them.
There are plenty of ways to enhance the broadcast. Removing the announcers from the stage would not have been one of them.
Before Lawler signed off his email, he shared that he has written a memoir that will come out in the fall.
If it’s anything like one of his broadcasts, it will be a story richly told.
It made me wonder: If he had spent all those years thousands of miles from the team, alone in a studio with his microphone, what on earth would he have had to write about?