Portland Trail Blazers fans can get an inside look at the team on Wednesday night from a man who has witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly of the team for the better part of three decades.
Kerry Eggers, of the Portland Tribune, will have a meet and greet at Sundown Grill and Bar-B-Q in Pendleton, starting at 5:30 p.m.
A social hour will be followed by Eggers talking about his new book “Jail Blazers: How the Portland Trail Blazers Became the Bad Boys of Basketball” and a discussion about this year’s team, which reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000.
Eggers’ book takes readers into the world of the Blazers from 1995 to 2005, where drugs, infidelity, attitude and run-ins with the law were a regular part of the Portland sports scene.
Eggers said it took him nearly a year to write the book, which includes interviews with roughly 70 people — 25 players, all the head coaches during the time, referees, broadcasters and guys who worked the police beat.
“There were a wide variety of opinions during that time,” Eggers said. “This is a very balanced look at a very interesting time. They were nationally known. They had success and controversy. I reached out to every significant person in that era. I did not get to talk to some players. Some did not want to talk, and some could not be reached.”
Included in that group were former Portland general manager Bob Whitsitt, and players J.R. Rider and Rasheed Wallace.
The book, which came out Nov. 27, 2018, is more than 500 pages. With Chapter 8 being Armageddon, Almost Every Week, it makes you want to skip a page or two.
Reviews from fellow authors have been more than positive.
“One of the great cult teams in NBA history deserves its own book (and, for that matter, movie). Eggers is the perfect chronicler and he delivers with (pardon the pun) this blunt retelling,” writes Jon Wertheim, executive editor of Sports Illustrated.
“It’s nice that I have gotten endorsements from other great writers,” Eggers said. “I appreciate that.”
An inside look
Beat writers for teams get a unique perspective into the lives of players and inner workings of the team, whether it be high school, college or pro. When it comes to exposing the dark side of a team, Eggers said it really isn’t that hard.
“I have been covering them for 30 years,” he said. “You have to play it down the middle and be impartial. It’s a job. You have to maintain a professional distance. But that doesn’t mean you don’t make relationships. It was a story that needed to be told.”
During the height of the Jail Blazer era, the team’s attendance went from a once proud 14,000 down to 8,000.
Issues with players like Rod Strickland, Dontonio Wingfield, Jermaine O’Neal, Gary Trent, Rider, Wallace and Cliff Robinson, among others, drove fans away.
“The Blazers lost a lot respect, and it showed at the box office,” Eggers said. “That’s when (owner) Paul Allen went in a different direction and fired Bob Whitsitt. Paul lived with it for so long because they won games. He allowed that. Bob spent Paul’s money and never got to the NBA Finals, and put up with the other stuff. It was a change for the better.”
While doing research for the book, former Blazer Steve Kerr (2001-02), now head coach of Golden State, said the team did not like the term Jail Blazers.
“Kerr said it was exaggerated,” Eggers said.
Eggers still has family and friends in Pendleton, making next week’s visit appropriate.
His father, John Eggers, was an all-state basketball player at Pendleton High School. His cousin Tim Hawkins lives locally, and longtime local sports enthusiast Dean Fouquette is a close friend.
“I get back occasionally,” Eggers said. “I talked to Dean about this, and he has been arranging everything. We’ll talk about the book and this year’s team. It should be a fun night.”