PORTLAND — Bill Schonely, the longtime Portland Trail Blazers broadcaster with a distinctive baritone who coined the phrase “Rip City,” died on Saturday. He was 93.
Affectionately known as “The Schonz,” Schonely was the team’s broadcaster for its inaugural season in 1970 and held the job for some 28 years — including the team’s NBA championship run in 1977.
He died in Portland with his wife of 31 years, Dottie, by his side, the team said. The cause of death was not released.
“The Schonz was a cornerstone of the organization since Day 1. He was the ultimate Trail Blazer — the voice of the Trail Blazers,” former Blazer Terry Porter said in a statement released by the team. “He was someone that Blazers fans grew up listening to for many, many generations. His voice will be missed, his presence will be missed, but his legacy will not be forgotten. It’s intertwined with every part of this organization.”
After leaving broadcasting, Schonely served as ambassador with the Blazers and was a frequent fixture at home games until his formal retirement last year.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden called Schonely “a true Oregon legend.”
“My friend Bill Schonely provided the soundtrack for generations of @trailblazers fans and forever made our beloved Portland into #RipCity,” Wyden posted to Twitter.
Schonely’s catchphrase “Rip City,” 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.
Schonely recalled in an interview last year 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. It fell.
“I was gonna say it ‘Rip the twine’ or something but I came up with ‘Rip City! All right!’ 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, and wherever you go, it’s humbling to me, but it’s ‘Rip City.’”
Schonely called more than 2,200 Trail Blazers games. He was recognized by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with the Curt Gowdy Media Award in 2012.
Schonely was born in Norristown, Pa., the first-born child of Walter and Juanita Schonely. He served in the Marine Corps, where he hosted a sports show for Armed Forces Radio overseas.
He then continued his broadcast career in Seattle with radio station KVI and as the voice of the Seattle Totems in the Western Hockey League.
His wide-ranging sports broadcasting experience also included University of Washington football, Seattle Angels baseball, the Oakland Seals in the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball’s Seattle Pilots before joining the Trail Blazers.
Schonely maintained a streak of calling games throughout his 30-year run that was only interrupted in 1982-83 when he stepped away to recover from heart bypass surgery.
In 1999, Schonely was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.
Going back to his baseball roots, Schonely got behind the play-by-play mic again in 2001 for the return of Triple-A baseball to Portland.
A public celebration of his life is being planned, the Blazers said.