Los Angeles has Vin Scully. Chicago had Harry Caray. If sports in Portland ever had a voice, that voice belonged to Bill Schonely, aka The Schonz. And today, the NBA recognized that voice by giving him the Curt Gowdy Media Award, in honor of his contributions to the game of basketball.
This is awesome. And yet, I'm still more than a little salty after hearing the news. Because once upon a time, there were calls like this, and calls like that, and even when the basketball being played in Portland wasn't good, it sure as hell sounded that way.
And now, these are the calls Schonely makes on behalf of the Blazers:
I feel robbed, myself. There was no reason that the 1998 Playoffs needed to be Schonely's final call. There was no reason for the management at the time (Bob Whitsitt had something to do with this, I believe, one of the first signs Trader Bob wasn't all he was cracked up to be) to force the man out. This is the second time he's been recognized as a Hall-of-Fame broadcaster (the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame inducted him back in 2002). He's still got the pipes, the mind, and the ability.
But instead, we were denied over a decade of Hall-of-Fame quality broadcasting, and what were we left with?
We were left with a pandering, nasal gasbag with a case of chronic homeritis, a man so poor at the fundamentals of basic broadcasting he often goes five minutes at a time before remembering to announce what the score is, a man whose sole memorable catchphrase, "Boom Shaka-Laka," was stolen from the motherboard of a 1992 quarter muncher.
See this jersey?
That jersey doesn't exist unless Bill Schonely does. An entire generation of Portland children practiced for hours a day on their driveway asphalt because Schonely made the sage advice "You've got to make your free throws," a legitimate catchphrase, alongside more nonsensical bits of verbal wordplay like "Lickety-brindle up the middle" and "Bingo, bango, bongo," full of words that aren't actual words, but still translate the motion of the game perfectly. He never sounded like he was forcing a call, or trying too hard. He could amp up an audience without having to play the homer card. He'd get excited when the Blazers went on a tear, but was equally stern and disappointed when they blew a play.
Boom-Shaka-Laka. That's it. A pandering jangle of syllables swiped from Midway's NBA JAM. That's all there is. He doesn't have Schonely's understanding of the game, nor the ability to translate that understanding to the listeners, nor the ability to get the listeners invested in what's happening on the floor. He adds nothing to the experience that you can't already get bellying up to the bar at Spirit of '77 and listening to whatever drunkard pounding peanuts into his maw manages to spit out between swigs. I'd rather listen to fucking Walton call a game than I would Brian Wheeler, and yet this guy is still behind the microphone.
Imagine the Dodgers telling Vin Scully to take a hike. Imagine the Cubs telling Harry Caray to go kick rocks. Portland did the equivalent back in 1998, and I'm still burnt about it.
This recognition by the NBA? Yeah, it's a nice balm, and he's more than deserving. It's just more than a little sad that an entire generation of fans has had to settle for some bullshit, when the man who did just as much to cultivate the atmosphere of Portland sports at its finest was relegated to selling vaccuum cleaners between timeouts.
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