Portland Trail Blazers: Origin of the term “Rip City”


Within the context of the basketball world, Portland is commonly referred to as “Rip City”. Many longtime Trail Blazer fans know the origin of the term (not all), but younger fans, newer fans, and fans of other teams may not be aware of the history. For those who are unaware and those who would like a refresher, here is how Portland became “Rip City”.

The Portland Trail Blazers’ very first season as an NBA franchise (1970-71) was a woeful one, as can be expected from a brand new team. The Los Angeles Lakers (and still present day rivals), on the other hand, were enjoying a prosperous season that would eventually take them to the Western Conference Finals. On February 18th, 1971, the two faced off in the Memorial Coliseum.

The Trail Blazers struggled early, falling behind the Lakers by double-digits. It seemed that the Lakers would win handily, as expected, until the Trail Blazers made a significant push in the second half, bringing the game within two points. It was then that Trail Blazers guard Jim Barnett launched an ill-advised, deep shot to tie the game and play-by-play announcer Bill Schonely blurted out, “RIP CITY!”

The Trail Blazers would eventually lose 136-114, but that moment within the game lives in history. It is important to remember that although the ABA introduced the three-point field goal in the 1970s, it was not adopted by the NBA until the 1979-80 season. Barnett’s heave was considered more of a circus shot at the time, electrifying the crowd.

Schonely, the creator of other beloved Trail Blazers expressions like “Bingo Bango Bongo” and “You’ve got to make your free throws” does not know how he came up with the term “Rip City”. Now 85, Schonely reflects back on the effect it had on Oregon sports.

“Rip City” has become more than a nickname, but a rallying cry for Portland. It graces the jerseys, the merchandise, and the lips of the fans. Those of you who watched or attended games in Portland during this past season’s playoffs may recall the thunderous chant “WE ARE . . . RIP CITY!” from the crowd. Without Schonely, we would not be.

Earliest known recording of Schonely’s “Rip City” (1972)

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