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The original Trail Blazer

NBA team patriarch Harry Glickman enjoys life


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Harry Glickman, the 88-year-old founder and former top executive of the Trail Blazers, is among the nominees for the 2013 class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.The gait is slower, stiffer and more shuffled. His eyesight has faded, and he wears hearing aids. He has a little more trouble recalling names.

But the handshake is strong, the mind is sharp, the smile the same and the familar gravelly voice unmistakeable as Harry Glickman greets you for lunch at the Multnomah Athletic Club.

“No major ailments,” says the patriarch of the Trail Blazers. “Feeling pretty darn good.”

Glickman’s already good spirits got a boost earlier this month when he was among the nominees for the 2013 class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — a year after broadcaster Bill Schonely earned the Hall’s annual Curt Gowdy Award. Glickman, 88, is being considered in the contributor category. Few are more deserving.

“I was kind of amazed when I learned I was nominated,” Glickman says over a plate of crab salad. “Very flattered. It’s more proof, I guess, that small markets can compete. You don’t have to be Los Angeles or Chicago or New York to matter.”

I ask Glickman what it would mean to him if he were to gain induction.

“I’m awfully proud to be a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame,” he says after a moment. “But I don’t know ... what’s the cliche? That would cap my career.”

Glickman is the man who put together the ownership group that landed Portland its expansion NBA franchise in 1970. He is considered the franchise’s founder, but was also its first general manager, executive vice president, president and finally president emeritus.

It’s been a remarkable run for the child of the Great Depression raised in a single-parent household, whose mother, Bessie, worked as a “finisher” in the lady’s garment industry.

“That’s how she made her living,” he says. “But we never missed anything. I had a newspaper route as a kid. We were fine.”

Glickman graduated from Lincoln High. After three years as a sergeant with an armored infantry battalion in Europe during World War II, he graduated with a journalism degree from Oregon with the idea of becoming a sports writer.

Instead, he became a sports promoter, founding Oregon Sports Attractions in 1952. During the ‘50 and ‘60s, he promoted NFL exhibitions at Multnomah Stadium, along with boxing, Harlem Globetrotters and NBA exhibitions at Portland’s new arena, Memorial Coliseum.

In 1960, Glickman became part-owner and general manager of the Buckaroos of the Western Hockey League, “the best deal I ever made,” he says.

The Buckaroos were an on-ice success and did well at the gate for their 13-year run in Portland.

In 1970, Glickman put together the ownership group that landed the Blazers — real estate magnates Bob Schmertz of New Jersey, Larry Weinberg of Los Angeles and Herm Sarkowsky of Seattle.

Dick Vertlieb, then the GM of the Seattle SuperSonics, tipped off Glickman that he had a businessman interested in buying a portion of the team.

“Dick wouldn’t tell me his name,” Glickman recalls. “So I go out to the airport to meet him and in walks Herm Sarkowsky — my wife’s ex-brother-in-law. I called Joanne and said, ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner?’ ”

The expansion franchise fee was $3.7 million.

“Seemed like a lot of money in those days,” Glickman says. “I see where the new Seattle franchise is going for $525 million. It’s crazy.”

The top price of a game ticket that first season was $5. It’s a bit more than that now.

“I don’t know how the average fan affords it,” Glickman says. “Many do. But prices are so high nowadays, and you can stay at home and watch the games on TV. That’s a big factor now.

“The prices are too high. There was a time when you didn’t want all your games on television because it would kill the gate. Then all of a sudden, you had to get on television. I think it’s shifted a little bit the other way now. Television provides a lot of money, but the fans are your lifeblood. You want them in the arena on game nights.”

Even so, Glickman says, “these are really the good ol’ days. It’s better now than it was then. Modern technology has made it so good for the fans. My grandson can run a computer and cell phone and get his information so quickly.”

During the Glickman era, the Blazers became one of the NBA’s model franchises, winning a championship in their seventh season that earned much respect around the league.

“One of my proudest possessions, I have a letter from (then commissioner) Walter Kennedy after we won the championship — unsigned,” Glickman says. “It’s the last letter he ever dictated before he died.

“His secretary sent it to me with a note saying she wanted me to have it. He wrote, ‘You and I are the only ones left who know the things you had to go through to get this title.’ ”

It’s the life of leisure these days in the twilight of Glickman’s life. A member of the MAC since 1967, he visits about four days a week, putting in an hour workout on the stationary bike, treadmill or eliptical machines. On Sundays, he is accompanied to the MAC by his bride of 53 years, Joanne.

The Glickmans owned a winter condo in Palm Springs, Calif., for years after his retirement but gave it up four years ago.

“We still rent a place down there for the month of March,” Glickman says, “but I don’t play golf anymore. That was the big attraction for me. I’m too damn old. And we wanted to be closer to our kids and grandchildren.”

Son Marshall lives in Bend, and daughters Jennifer and Lynn live in Portland, and there are three grandchildren.

When I ask Glickman how he spends his days, he laughs.

“I don’t do a hell of a lot,” he says. “Go to a movie occasionally. Read a lot. I read the newspaper on Kindle. It’s hard for me to see the small type.”

The Glickmans attend many Trail Blazer home games. Their courtside seats for life were a gift from the club upon his retirement in 1994. Glickman remains a fan of the team and likes its current incarnation.

“They’ve made some good changes over there since the ‘Jail Blazer’ era,” he says. “It’s everywhere, but maybe a little more in Portland — they like good people here. They had some bad people (as players) for a while. Now it seems like they’re pretty good people.”

Glickman likes the nucleus of talent, making particular mention of the potential of rookie center Meyers Leonard.

“But to win a championship, you need a good 10-man rotation,” he says. “They have a few (good players), but they need a lot more of it, and they need to be better defensively.”

While Glickman’s fondness for the Blazers is enduring, he has no such warm feelings about owner Paul Allen, who took over in 1988 when Glickman had just become team president.

“I love the club,” he says. “I don’t like Paul, but I love the club.”

Before Glickman begins his explanation, he adds a qualifier.

“When the Rose Garden plan was being raised, Paul never said, ‘Build us an arena or we’ll leave,’ ” Glickman says. “He just went out and built the arena himself. I give Paul a lot of credit for that.”

In 1994, two short years after Rick Adelman had coached the Blazers to the NBA finals for the second time in three seasons, Allen fired him.

“One of the last things I did was go to Seattle to have lunch with Paul and (vice chairman) Bert Kolde,” Glickman says. “I wanted to talk them out of getting rid of Rick. Might have been the last thing I ever did.”

Adelman was fired, general manager Geoff Petrie resigned and Bob Whitsitt was soon brought in to replace Glickman as president and Petrie as GM.

“Didn’t like Whitsitt at all,” Glickman says. “That might have been where I broke my pick with Paul. I used terrible language, which I shouldn’t have. They told me they were bringing in Whitsitt and asked, ‘Can you get along with him?’ I said, ‘I’d like to think I can get along with anybody, but he has a reputation.’

“I’d been warned about him. He wouldn’t return phone calls — just a bad guy. Never talked to me about anything. The thing that really pissed me off was he lived in Seattle. If you’re the general manager of the Trail Blazers, you ought to live in Portland.”

When Glickman stepped down, he says, “I asked for a consulting arrangement or a pension, and they gave me neither one. They let me stay on their health plan for an additional year until Joanne got to Medicare. That’s the only thing they did.”

Glickman says he has “zero relationship” with Allen.

“A few years ago, I was asked by somebody if I wanted to go out and watch the first practice of training camp, and I said sure,” he says. “Kevin Pritchard was the GM at the time, and his secretary called me and said, ‘This is the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life, but Paul doesn’t really want you there. You can come sit with the media later.’

“I said, ‘In that case, I don’t want to be there at all.’ I think Pritchard might have intervened and said, ‘You’re welcome here any time you want.’ ”

Allen, Glickman continued, “is a strange guy. Bucky Buckwalter was named the NBA executive of the year. Paul never called him. John Lashway was named PR director of the year. Paul never called him. Schonely goes into the Hall of Fame, he has never heard from Paul to this day. He’s just that kind of a guy.”

A few years ago, Glickman wrote an op-ed newspaper piece suggesting it was time for Allen to sell the club.

“I still feel that way,” Glickman says. “I don’t think they’ll be in really good hands until Paul sells the club. He’s done his thing. It’s time for a change.

“I’ll bet (Commissioner) David Stern has a list of a whole bunch of guys who want to buy NBA franchises. I don’t think he’d have any trouble finding an owner or ownership group.”

If the words sound bitter, they’re only fleeting, brought out through queries from a reporter. Glickman loves recalling the high moments of his tenure with the Blazers, including the 1977 title, the visits to the NBA finals in 1990 and ‘92, the hiring of Schonely as the team’s first radio play-by-play man.

“We couldn’t get a radio station when we got the team at first,” Glickman says. “We finally worked out a deal with KOIN. I wanted a local guy to get the job. The first guy I wanted was Jimmy Jones. He didn’t want to leave KPTV (TV). We thought about Art Eckman, but he moved to San Diego.

“I knew Schonz from (calling games for the Seattle Totems of) the Western Hockey League. I knew he was a pretty good announcer. I called him and asked if he’d ever done basketball. He said, ‘A couple of University of Washington games.’ I said, ‘Would you be interested in coming down here?’ He said, ‘Oh yeah.’ We talked for about a half-hour, shook hands and had a deal.”

No audition?

“He didn’t need to audition,” Glickman says. “I knew he had good pipes.

“To this day, I consider Bill a better hockey announcer than he was basketball. But he was great for us, too. And give him credit. Every summer, he’d travel the state and make a lot of friends for us (on the Blazer caravan tours). It’s all part of his legend.”

Glickman, too, was responsible for Adelman’s hiring as an assistant coach for Jack Ramsay in 1983 out of Chemeketa Community College.

“After Jim Lynam left, Jack wanted George Karl,” Glickman says. “George wanted a little more than we wanted to pay, but we’d have probably paid it or split it in the middle. I don’t think money would have stopped us from getting whoever Jack wanted.

“In the interim, I asked Jack to give a courtesy interview to a guy who played for us and was coaching down in Salem. He said sure, and Rick got the job.”

When Mike Schuler was fired midway through the 1988-89 season, “Kolde says to me, ‘Jack Schalow will coach the rest of the season, and then we’ll get a good coach at the end of the year,’ “ Glickman says.

“I said, ‘No damn way. Rick’s paid his dues. I’m announcing him tomorrow morning. If he works, fine. If he doesn’t, we’ll go from there. But he’s the guy who’s going to coach.’ ”

There are many other stories Glickman can share. Maybe they’ll go into his next book (Does anyone remember “Promoter Ain’t a Dirty Word”?).

Perhaps next month at the All-Star Game, Glickman will get word he is headed for the Basketball Hall of Fame. That would be a fitting final chapter.

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