PORTLAND — Bill Schonely is calling it a night. The broadcaster who coined the phrase “Rip City” is retiring after more than 50 years with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Portland honored Schonely at the team’s regular-season finale on Sunday night. Affectionately known as “Schonz,” the 92-year-old was the Blazers’ broadcaster for their inaugural season in 1970 and held the job for some 28 years.
Since then, he’s been an ambassador with the Blazers, often lending his distinctive baritone voice to team promotions. He’s been a fixture at games at the Moda Center.
For his final game Sunday, he conducted Oregon Symphony’s brass section in playing the national anthem. The Portland fans greeted him with a standing ovation for a halftime ceremony. One hollered: “We need a statue!”
Gov. Kate Brown declared Sunday “Rip City” day in Oregon.
His catchphrase, which is now enshrined on one of the team’s uniforms, was born during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Blazers were down by 20-plus points, but made a comeback.
He said that Jim Barnett, a former Oregon player who was one of the original Blazers, winked at him before taking a shot just steps inside the midcourt line.
“I was gonna say it ‘Rip the twine’ or something but I came up with ‘Rip City! All right!′ And look what happened,” he 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, and wherever you go, it’s humbling to me, but it’s ‘Rip City.’”
Schonely misses some of the Blazers greats that have passed away, including Jerome Kersey and Maurice Lucas, who created Rip City. He’s part of that history, too.
“I always tried to tell the story as it was, because even though it was a regular-season basketball game, there was always a story to tell,” he said.
Schonely says he’s not sure what he’ll do in retirement. He said he has no hobbies because the Blazers have been his life.
“Now it’s time for me to turn it over to other people. My health is not as good as it used to be. But I’m still as ornery as ever,” he said. “I’ll keep on doing what I can for this organization, which has been very good to me over these years.”