Portland Trail Blazers: When the GM traded himself for a week for an All-Star guard

Portland Trail Blazers Jim Paxson (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Portland Trail Blazers Jim Paxson (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland Trail Blazers /

What does the phrase “whatever it takes” mean to you?  It likely varies from person-to-person, depending on their level of competitive makeup and imagination. In 1983, here’s what it meant for Portland Trail Blazers senior Vice President Jon Spoelstra..

I, as the executive of my team, will trade myself to your team for one week, get you out of monetary debt, and in return, you give us your All-Star point guard.

No, seriously.

In many circles, this is viewed as the wildest, most creative trade in the history of the NBA — not only for the dynamic of an owner being traded for a player, but for the fact that Spoelstra was planning to return back to Portland just seven days later. Jon, the father of Miami’s future Hall of Fame caliber coach Erik Spoelstra, epitomized confidence and originality during his time in the front office. Along the way, he left us much to discuss within the annals of NBA history.

To understand this trade, one must understand the setting of the NBA at the time. Spoelstra, in an air of confidence, explained this in detail in 1983.

"“I was an advocate that if you owned an N.B.A. team, you didn’t have to lose money,” Spoelstra said. “In 1983, almost every team was losing money and the Trail Blazers weren’t.”"

The Portland Trail Blazers had fallen on hard times due to injuries. The Playoffs were still a near-affirmation, so long as they showed up.

For reference, the 1983 Blazers were home to a roster that included: two 20-point scorers (Calvin Natt and Jim Paxson), Mychal Thompson, Fat Lever, and one year later, Clyde Drexler. In Spoelstra’s estimation, the only thing the team needed to really climb into the upper echelon of Western Conference powers was a defensive-minded, pass-first point guard.

Enter the Indiana Pacers.

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California owners Sam Nassi and Frank Mariani had difficulty embedding their ideas and expertise in a small-market, basketball-breathing state of Indiana’s ilk, which at some point, had some thinking of relocating to Sacramento or Anaheim, to give California its 9,239th professional sports team, per NBA.com and Sports Illustrated.

Spoelstra had shut the door on helping Indiana at first, but had that door reopened after Blazers starting point guard Darnell Valentine (you might remember him more for his play as Cleveland’s backup against Jordan’s Bulls) injured his foot. And so came the deal.

Spoelstra had his heart set on Don Buse, a 32-year-old point guard with quite the resumè: a 6-time Defensive teamer (in the NBA and ABA), a one-time steals and assists champion, two-time All-Star, and one-time ABA champion. But because Indiana’s money was drying up, they had little future use for him. And here was the deal.

Portland receives: Don Buse

Indiana receives: Portland’s senior Vice President Jon Spoelstra for two weeks.

Spoelstra only needed one week.

Funny enough, the Pacers tried to prevent Spoelstra’s name from actually hitting the public waves. As reported by Sports Illustrated’s Ben Pickman:

"“Initially, the NBA kept the details of the deal quiet, omitting Spoelstra’s name from the announcement. But he went off to Indiana anyway, working just a single week with the team. He met with prospective owners and helped Indiana learn more about Portland’s in-house radio success. A 1986 New York Times story also reports that he turned in an 100-page document of suggestions that Spoelstra said at the time “he would have been afraid to try in Portland,” but he has no recollection of that document.”"

All told, it proved to arguably be a win-win. Indiana’s franchise survived a crumble, and Portland got its point guard, making the semi-deep runs in the postseason to follow. Much like Erik Spoelstra, his father was largely before his time. He used his sports marketing expertise to push the envelope of the NBA’s viewership. To point out a few:

I’m not saying Neil Olshey couldn’t take a few notes here, and sacrifice himself for a two weeks to get Portland, say, Domantas Sabonis, but I’m not opposed to it, either. All jokes aside, where the Blazers have historically lacked in championships and fortune, they’ve made up for it with unforgettable stories to this degree.

Next. Revisiting the national media's predictions of the Blazers. dark

We’ve seen similar type deals with Kyle Korver being traded for a copy machine? Or the time the Raptors were given a 2018 second round pick from Orlando for president Jeff Weltman. But let the record show — without any real records to show for it, unfortunately — that the Portland Trail Blazers proved to be the trendsetters. We’ll have our cake, trade it, and eat it, too.