Portland Trail Blazers Bill Schonley dies at 93

Schonley standing with a cardboard mask of his face
Courtesy of Bruce Ely / Trailblazers

Friends, colleagues, fans remember life, passions of legendary basketball announcer & Portland hero

On Jan. 21, BILL Schonely, a long-time Portland Trail Blazers announcer, died at the age of 93.

He passed away early last Saturday morning at home with his wife. The cause of his death has not yet been disclosed. Schonely worked as a broadcaster for the Portland Trail Blazers from 1970 to 1998. In his nearly 30-year career he would coin the iconic term “Rip City,” which would go on to exist as Portland’s basketball nickname to this very day. Due to his efforts he earned the nickname “Mayor of Rip City.” He was a favorite of the team.

Former Blazer Terry Porter commented on the loss in a statement issued by the team.

“He was the ultimate Trail Blazer — the voice of the Trail Blazers,” Porter said.

After retiring from broadcasting, Schonely worked as a Blazer’s ambassador and attended many home games up until his official retirement last April. Schonely gave a touching statement to the crowd during a halftime celebration at a game against the Utah Jazz, while remembering the teammates he played and watched with. He reflected back on his own catchphrase, Rip City.

“And look what happened,” Schonely said. “It took a little while for that phrase to catch on. I had no idea that all of this was going to happen, but it did wherever you go. It’s humbling to me.”

Schonely coined this phrase during an inaugural season game versus the Los Angeles Lakers, on February 18, 1971. After Blazers forward Jim Barnett made a long midrange jumper, he reacted naturally.

“Rip City, all right!” Schonely yelled.

The name persisted for decades after and now serves as part of his legacy. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, of Oregon, reacted to the death online.

“My friend Bill Schonely provided the soundtrack for generations of Trailblazers fans and forever made our beloved Portland into #RipCity,” Wyden said via Twitter.

He also emphasized the announcer’s place in state history, “A true Oregon legend.” Wyden called Schonely.

Schonely broadcasted more than 2,200 Trail Blazers games. In 2012, he received the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He had a lengthy broadcast career in the area before being the sixth employee in the Trail Blazer’s history. In fact, he worked as the team’s television play- by-play announcer for two seasons in the 1990s and would continue to broadcast for the following 28 seasons. Schonely only missed 28 games, most of which occurred when recovering from a heart attack.

Interestingly, Schonely had a stutter as a child in Norristown, Pennsylvania, but he overcame it by singing and reading aloud from the newspaper. He initially gained national attention in sports broadcasting in 1957, when he was hired as the Seattle Totems’ radio announcer. He served with the Totems for 11 years and developed a catchphrase there as well.

“He scoooooooores!” Schonely said frequently.

Portland has become a basketball hub for people from all walks of life.

What Bill Schonely contributed to the culture was paramount to creating an exciting and welcoming atmosphere. He is a part of what made Portland basketball what it is, and for that, he will never be forgotten.

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