The Portland Trail Blazers became known as the "Jail Blazers" during the early-2000s thanks to a series of incidents involving multiple players, which resulted in lagging attendance and a slow decline from a championship contender to an also-ran. Damon Stoudamire, one of the key players of the Jail Blazers era, told Tom Westerholm of MassLive.com that he believes those teams were treated unfairly by Portland fans.
Stoudamire, who was arrested multiple times for marijuana possession as a member of the Blazers, said the players on those teams turned into "larger-than-life figures" locally, which put them under an unfairly-large microscope. He tried to chalk up the problems to guys just making mistakes. He also tried to diminish his charges by making the point that weed is now legalized in Oregon.
"The Trail Blazers are all the city of Portland has, and I'm from there so I know that's all we got," Stoudamire said. "We need them to be good to be economically feasible in that place. And I'm like, man, 'Why are you all on us like that when guys are human and guys make mistakes?' Now, years later, marijuana is legalized in Portland. Oregon is one of those type of places."
Stoudamire feels Blazers fans hold players to too high a standard and need to "be able to forgive and forget." He thinks that attitude may be one reason LaMarcus Aldridge left to sign with the Spurs, as Aldridge reportedly felt under-appreciated by the fans despite putting up big numbers and playing through injury. Ultimately, Stoudamire wants the city to "get back to embracing the team again."
While Stoudamire -- who once took a drug test to prove to a reporter that he was clean -- may have a point about the high standards and himself getting too bad a rap for marijuana charges that were ultimately dropped, it's hard to say some of his teammates and that group as a whole were unfairly criticized. A few pot arrests are one thing, but there was a-whole-lot more going on in Portland during those years.
Shawn Kemp had issues with cocaine and alcohol abuse and had to go into rehab. Ruben Patterson was signed while he was going through legal problems relating to a sexual assault charge. Zach Randolph was accused of sexually assaulting a stripper. Qyntel Woods was busted on animal abuse charges for staging dog fights at his house and also cited for marijuana possession. Rasheed Wallace was suspended for threatening an official and was also involved with marijuana. Bonzi Wells was suspended for hitting a ref, suspended for cursing out head coach Mo Cheeks and cited for criminal trespassing along with Erick Barkley for not following police orders to leave the scene of a fight near a downtown nightclub. Darius Miles unleashed a tirade on Cheeks that featured multiple racial slurs. The list of transgressions goes on and on.
This wasn't just a couple players making innocent mistakes. This was a long list of Trail Blazers players making bad choices that ultimately helped cause the team's decline. It's no surprise interest waned, criticism ratcheted up and the team went into the dumpster. It's hard to embrace a team that has so many off-court problems and isn't any good.
Stoudamire is also a bit off-base when he said the city needs to do a better job embracing the Blazers. Perhaps Aldridge did feel a bit under-appreciated, but Blazers fans have consistently been showing up in big numbers in recent years. Since 2008, the Blazers have finished in the top 10 in home attendance every single year and finished in the top three four times. The Moda Center was nominated for best home-court advantage in the league at the NBPA Players' Awards and received votes in the 2014-15 general manager survey for best home-court advantage.
Blazers fans are glad to support a winning team with a bunch of likable players. We saw that these last few years. Those early-2000s Blazers had quite a bit of success and were embraced then, but once the legal problems began and the wins went away, there was little reason for the fans to keep supporting them.
That would've happened anywhere and isn't something unique to Portland.