By John Canzano

The Oregonian

Trail Blazers 2, Thunder 0

Game 1: Blazers 104, Thunder 99

Game 2: Blazers 114, Thunder 94

Friday at OKC 6:30 p.m.

Sunday at OKC 6:30 p.m.

All times PDT

It’s a joke.

Bill Schonely meets a starry-eyed Portland Trail Blazers fan. Then, the legendary original franchise broadcaster holds up his hand, reveals his 1977 NBA championship ring, and offers, “Well, I’d like to stick around and see them win another one before I die.”


(Longer pause.)

“But they’d better hurry up.”

It always gets a laugh.

Schonely is 89 now. Still working the Moda Center concourse before home games. Still wandering the arena at halftime, shaking hands. Still telling that same joke.

“But now,” Schonely said, “it gets nervous laughs.”

I bumped into Schonely at Game 1 of the Trail Blazers-Thunder playoff series. He was in the media room — in his usual uniform: a pressed suit, slacks and a tie. He was watching Tiger Woods on a flat screen on the wall play out the final couple of holes at Augusta National.

He looked up and said: “Looks like Tiger’s going to finally get another one.”

Will Schonely get another one?

The Trail Blazers lead their Western Conference first-round playoff series with Oklahoma City 2-0. And the organization’s No. 6 hire in 1970 wonders how far away this organization really is from winning big again, and asks himself if he’ll be around to see it.

It’s stopped being a joke to Schonely.

He helped a city bury Kevin Duckworth.

Then, Maurice Lucas.

Then, Jerome Kersey.

And Paul Allen.

“I’ve lost so many friends,” Schonely told me at the beginning of the season.

When Dale Schlueter, one of the original Trail Blazers, died of cancer in 2014, a memorial was held. Schonely ended up with the microphone, up front at Memorial Coliseum, explaining how fleeting life is. He’s privately wondered who will hold the microphone when it’s his time.

“I’ve had a hip replacement,” he said this week. “I had a heart problem, but that’s OK now. But I’m on more pills in the morning than Carter’s makes.”

As a kid, you’d hear the trumpets at the beginning of the broadcast, then Schonely’s voice. And you’d come running to the living room. Maybe you’d listen on a transistor radio. Maybe you’d sit with your parents, siblings and grandparents, and listen to him describe what he saw.

“Bingo. Bango. Bongo.”

“Rip City, baby!”

“You’ve got … to make … your free throws.”

Iconic catch phrases. Ones you might see on a T-shirt at some point of this playoff series. Or maybe on the freeway, as the license plates on his red Cadillac still read, “RIP CITY.”

Someone pried one of the vanity plates off the vehicle a couple of years ago in a parking lot. Schonely called me. He was beside himself because he’d walked into the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a replacement and was told that the law required all stolen plates, even personalized ones, be retired.

The Trail Blazers front office made some phone calls.

It didn’t take long to find someone at the DMV who understood what keeping that phrase on Schonely’s vehicle meant. An exception was made. And that lost plate, more likely than not, is out there somewhere, not on a vehicle, but tacked to someone’s wall.

Probably time to point something out.

Bill Schonely died years ago.

“The Schonz” lives on.

The former Marine who was hired by franchise founder Harry Glickman over a turkey sandwich at Huber’s restaurant stopped being at some point. Nobody knows when. But he was replaced by the endearing franchise broadcaster who was thrown in the showers by Bill Walton and teammates after the 1977 championship game.

As his wife, Dottie, always says: “I think he loves being ‘The Schonz.’”

Generations of players have come and gone since Schonely called the Blazers’ title-game victory. General managers and coaches were hired and fired. The franchise moved to a new arena. Then, the new arena’s name changed.

There isn’t a more steady and iconic representation of the basketball organization than the pristine man in that perfect suit, working the concourse. He’s the biggest brand within the brand. Maybe he’ll always be.

Dottie tells people: “This is his life now.”

Sponsor meetings. Handshakes. Golf tournaments.

“When the phone rings,” Schonely said, “I probably answer it too much.”

Tiger wins at Augusta. The Warriors blow a 31-point lead. The Blazers win the opening game of a playoff series, snapping a streak of 10 straight postseason losses, then wins another. Schonely is taking all that in now in a different way from how he did decades ago.

“We came so close in the 1990s,” he said. “And if we’d had Arvydas Sabonis sooner we’d probably have won another title or two.”

Schonely told me on Monday night that the Game 1 victory against the Thunder was great, but he thinks the Blazers are still one key player away from truly competing. He’d like to see a Lucas-like enforcer join Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

Is this franchise inching closer? Watch it in this series and ask yourself. Because there’s a growing sense of urgency in the eyes of the man who will turn 90 this summer. This is an NBA operation that soon must find a breakthrough.

If only to get the man who started with it another ring.

Schonely said: “I’d love so much to see a championship happen again.”

No joke.