PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — At Trail Blazers media availability on Saturday, Bill Schonely was essentially the only thing both Chauncey Billups and Damian Lillard were asked about.
And rightly so.
“Mr. Schonely obviously is an icon, a legend. Not just in this area either. Around the league, period,” said Billups. “He was always very kind to me and very encouraging and optimistic to me, so I was lucky that I got that little time with him.”
“I’m sure his voice will be remembered. What he represented will be remembered,” said Lillard. “I’m just happy that I’ve been around long enough and spent enough time around him to call him a friend and get to know him.”
Damian Lillard, drafted by the Blazers 10 years ago, knew The Schonz much longer than Billups.
Ironically, the moment that stands out to him with Schonely is the first time they ever talked.
“I would say the conversation about where Rip City came from,” said Lillard, reflecting on his favorite Schonely stories. “When he was saying it to me, I was like, ‘I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that that’s where it came from. I didn’t know you came up with it.’ And he was just like, ‘Yeah, I really did.’ I was like, ‘Alright.’ I wasn’t really sure how accurate it was. He was like, ‘No, I can get you the clip. I can get you the soundbite.’ He was really trying to get me to see that he came up with this.”
The 93-year-old was understandably proud of the phrase that is so synonymous with basketball in Portland that the Blazers now display it across their chests.
He spent nearly 50 years overall working for the organization, including being the team’s play-by-play announcer from when they were founded in 1970 to 1998.
“He loved being a part of this city and being a part of this organization,” said Lillard. “Not a lot of people have that type of mentality, especially where we are now. People go organization to organization. Nobody is tied to any one place. It really just shows how much it meant to him.”
There are not many NBA superstars today who could speak as knowledgeably or eloquently about an organization’s sixth hired employee overall as Lillard did on Saturday about Schonely.
That puts a lot into perspective for Lillard as well.
“To be around here for as long as I have, there’s a lot of people that I get to know and that makes the job better for me,” said Lillard. “That gives what I do more purpose. It makes it something you become attached to because of the friendships and the people that you meet along the way the longer that you’re tied into one place. I think that’s what my experiences have been, especially with what we’re talking about right now.”