Portland Trail Blazers’ Insecurity Rears Its Ugly Head Again

The Portland Trail Blazers are at it again.

Late last week, local sports radio and television host Isaac Ropp announced that he had been fired from his job as a panelist on “Talkin’ Ball,” a program that appears after Blazers games on Comcast SportsNet Northwest.

Ropp said he was dismissed because he was critical of the team. He pointed the finger at Blazers GM Neil Olshey, calling him “the most sensitive guy I’ve ever seen in this business.”

For what it’s worth, CSNNW Vice President and General Manager Larry Eldridge denied that the Blazers had anything to do with Ropp’s firing in a Friday statement to The Oregonian.

Eldridge might be telling the truth. It’s very possible that there was no explicit order from the Blazers to their television partner to fire Ropp. But no one who knows the Blazers can possibly believe that they weren’t at least indirectly involved.

This is a franchise that, for decades, has gone out of its way to try to control its media coverage.

Beat writer and reporter Jason Quick, who moved from The Oregonian to CSNNW two years ago, hinted on Twitter in the wake of Ropp’s firing that he’s been similarly muzzled.

Oregonian columnist John Canzano revealed that Blazers owner Paul Allen has, amongst other directives, forbidden Olshey, team president Chris McGowan, and head coach Terry Stotts from appearing on his radio show.

Last year, the Blazers fired beloved television announcers Mike Barrett and Mike Rice. Why? They were authentic. If the Blazers weren’t playing well, they’d say so.

Their replacements, Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd, decidedly don’t have that problem. The result is a joke of a broadcast – especially when the Blazers are as bad as they are right now – but that doesn’t seem to matter to the team.

Under Allen’s leadership, the Blazers have operated with a jaw-dropping level of pettiness and insecurity.

The team’s attitude towards the media, and, by extension, fans – sensitive if you’re feeling charitable, paranoid if you aren’t – continues to be an embarrassment. It wouldn’t fly in a bigger market, and it shouldn’t fly here.

The Blazers aren’t fooling anyone. They’re having a terrible year. The team has turned the second-highest payroll in the NBA into a 22-30 record and ninth place in the Western Conference.

Sure, the Blazers are still selling tickets – hell, they just sold out a game against Cleveland in the middle of a snowstorm – but fans are showing up despite the team at this point. Not because of it.

No one who has been to the Moda Center this year needed to watch Isaac Ropp to figure out that this team is littered with overpaid players and can’t play defense.

None of this is new. It’s how the Blazers have always been, from the Jail Blazers era on. The troubling thing is that the organization never learns from its mistakes. Leaning on the media doesn’t work. Fans see through it.

The Timbers, you’ll notice, don’t have this problem. Neither do most winning organizations.

McGowan, since arriving in 2012, has done plenty of things right. The team’s marketing is sharp, and more locally focused than ever before. The arena experience has been improved.

But McGowan undercut himself with the dismantling of the broadcast team last summer. For whatever reason, he’s continued to enforce the Blazers’ stilted, slimy modus operandi as it relates to image and message.

The Blazers, especially in comparison to the Timbers, remain extraordinarily disconnected from their fans. This episode is part of the reason why. It’s amateur hour. The state’s flagship franchise should be bigger and better.

Olshey, for his part, should be worried about what people are saying about him. The Blazers, as currently constructed, are a mess. But the response is to improve the team, not try to silence those whose job it is to give honest opinions about it.

Winning has held the Blazers together for the last several years. But the more the losses pile up, the more toxic the organization is going to become. We’ve seen it time and again in this town over the years.

Only a weak franchise wants exclusively state-sponsored coverage. Unfortunately, in the year 2017, that’s still where the Blazers are.

1 Comment

  1. I’m shocked you’re going to the mat for Mike and Mike. MR was pathetic, not authentic, for the last 5 years on air. You think they held the Blazers’ feet to the fire? Come on. Moving on from them was one of the best things McGowan has done.

    Also, as a Timbers fan, I’m puzzled and dismayed by your effort to shoehorn them into this article. They are far from a poster child of a thick-skinned, learn-from-criticism organization.

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