Scroll down past text for photos! I love these photos!
Thirty-six years ago, June 5, 1977, the Portland Trail Blazers became champions.
From the Web: The 1977 NBA World Championship Series was the championship round of the 1976-77 NBA season. The Portland Trail Blazers of the Western Conference played against the Philadelphia 76ers of the Eastern Conference, with the 76ers holding home-court advantage. Their 4 regular season meetings had been split evenly, 2-2, with neither side winning away from home. The series was played under a best-of-seven format, so the first team to win four games would win the series and become the league champions.
The 1976-77 NBA season started with the ABA–NBA merger. Portland had benefited from the resulting ABA dispersal draft as they acquired Spirits of St. Louis power forward Maurice Lucas to partner with Bill Walton, and Philadelphia had signed ABA All-Star and 3-time ABA MVP Julius "Dr. J" Erving, who had taken the New York Nets to the ABA title the previous year. In the 1977 NBA Finals, five of the ten starting players were former ABA players. (Those five starters from the ABA were Julius Erving, Caldwell Jones, George McGinnis, Dave Twardzik and Maurice Lucas.) While it was no surprise that Philadelphia had made it to the championship series, having posted the best record in the east (50-32, #1), Portland's appearance in the finals was a mild surprise. Portland, a team that was founded only seven years earlier, was not only making its playoff debut with its first winning season (49-33, #3), but it was also making its finals debut as well after sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in four close games in the Western Conference Finals.
The series quickly went 2-0 in favor of Philadelphia, but over the next four games, Portland mounted a comeback that has rarely been seen in professional sports.
Portland, now leading the series 3–2, arrived back home for Game 6 in the middle of the night to a crowd of 5,000 fans waiting at the airport. With just 48 minutes separating the Blazers from their first championship, "Blazermania" had gripped the city. Philadelphia kept the game close throughout the first quarter, but were down by 15 at halftime after the Blazers netted 40 points in the second quarter. Erving tried in vain to force a game 7 for his team, scoring 40 points, but Bill Walton's 20 points, 23 rebounds, 7 assists and 8 blocks kept the game in Portland's hands, as Philadelphia's George McGinnis missed the game-tying jump shot with 4 seconds left sent for a heart-stopping 109–107 Portland win. The crowd stormed onto the court in a frenzy.
Bill Walton was named finals MVP and was called "an inspiration" by the defeated Julius Erving. Maurice Lucas later said of Walton's post-game thrown jersey that was sent into the rushing crowd of fans, "if I had caught the shirt, I would have eaten it. Bill's my hero."
Portland was awarded two trophies for winning the NBA Championship: The Walter A. Brown Trophy, which was kept by the winning team for only a year until the next NBA Finals; and a newly designed trophy later to be known as the Larry O'Brien Trophy which was now to be kept by the winning team with a new one produced at every NBA Finals since. The Walter A. Brown Trophy was retired shortly after this game.
If you're a sports fan, you can understand how excited I am in this photo. The chance to get this close to the Portland Trail Blazers' 1977 NBA World Championship trophy is something never crossed my mind as even a remote possibility. As my turn to stand beside the brand new trophy approached, I put my bus pass lanyard in my fanny pack, placed my backpack on the table the Blazers had provided and handed my camera to Melissa, a Blazers' season ticket holder specialist, showed her where to look and the button to push, completely forgetting to explain about how to focus it. Thank goodness we had serendipity on our side because this photo turned out pretty good!
In the memorabilia room on the History Tour, I took this photo and the next one of two shots on a big screen TV, mainly because I wanted to show you the trophy in the hands of the Blazers for the first time!
Pretty cool locker room celebration!
And here it is in its travel case. Those white gloves were worn by the man in charge of getting it from wherever it usually lives over to the Memorial Coliseum so that we could see it and have our photos taken beside it. Thanks, Blazers! Here's what I found out about the trophy online: The winning team of the NBA Finals receives the O'Brien Trophy, and has since the Portland Trail Blazers won it in 1977. They were awarded it in conjunction with the original Walter A. Brown Trophy. Each successive champion was awarded a version of this new trophy to keep, and the original, cup-shaped Walter A. Brown Trophy to hold until the next championship. This state of affairs pertained until 1983. The Boston Celtics were the first winner of only this trophy, receiving it in 1984 after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers four games to three.
The trophy, made of 14.5 pounds of sterling silver and vermeil with a 24 karat gold overlay, stands two feet tall. It is designed to look like a basketball about to enter a net. The basketball itself is nine inches in diameter, about the same size as a NBA regulation ball. Valued at $13,500, the trophy is manufactured by the Tiffany & Co. Silver Shop every year. The winning team maintains permanent possession of the trophy. The year and team names are engraved on the trophies, and are often prominently displayed in the team's arena.