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Canzano: Putting the godfather of state sports to rest
Harry Glickman was a titan.
They gathered under the dome of the temple on the corner of NW 19th Ave. and Flanders Street on Friday. Someone played the violin. A rabbi spoke. Then, friends and family of Harry Glickman spent three hours celebrating his life.
It could never be enough.
Glickman died a couple of summers ago. He was 96. The memorial was postponed due to the pandemic, rescheduled a couple of times, and finally, this week, the godfather of sports in the state of Oregon got a well-deserved victory lap.
I met with Glickman on occasion over the years. We got coffee at a Starbucks across the street from his condominium in the Pearl District a few times. He arrived with a caretaker in the later years. She would wheel Glickman through the doors in a blue wheelchair and position him at a table.
Glickman was aging, but his eyes danced and his unforgettable gravel-laced, baritone voice boomed. He talked about promoting boxing matches, making hockey a success and bringing more than a dozen NFL exhibition games to Portland. But in the end, Glickman always circled back to his Trail Blazers.
Yes — his — Blazers.
Jody Allen may control the trust that owns them. Vice Chairman Bert Kolde may run them. But the Trail Blazers forever belong to the guy who singlehandedly engineered the NBA’s arrival to Portland. Without Glickman, there’s no Trail Blazers, Inc. and I wonder how big Oregon’s largest city would look on a map.
“You just do what you need to do, one step at a time,” Glickman once told me.
His father, a Russian immigrant, was a cruel man. He sometimes locked Harry and his mother in a closet for hours at a time. Harry’s parents divorced when he was 5. He was so bright that he skipped two grades in elementary school.
As a kid, Glickman stood on the corner of SW 4th Ave. and Yamhill Street. and sold copies of The Oregon Journal. Later, he attended the University of Oregon and majored in journalism. He loved his wife, his children, his friends, sports and jazz music.
I learned a few things about Glickman on Friday. For example, he was awarded a Bronze Star for his service in World War II. In all our talks over nearly two decades, Glickman never brought it up. He preferred, instead, to talk about family and sports.
Glickman once told me that while promoting an NFL game in Portland he became good friends with a young media relations employee for the Los Angeles Rams. The kid’s name: Pete Rozelle, who would go on to become NFL commissioner.
At a cocktail party, Rozelle pulled Glickman aside and shared that he’d heard something interesting.
Said Rozelle: “Harry, the NBA is expanding."
Glickman didn’t have the financial backing. City leadership didn’t covet professional sports. Nobody believed the NBA, which already had a team in Seattle, would consider putting another team in a geographical outpost such as Portland, but Glickman saw opportunity.
There’s a magnificent mental leap that has to take place when you go from asking “Is Portland an NBA city?” to saying “Portland IS an NBA city.”
A few words change places. A period replaces the question mark. But it’s essentially like jumping across the Grand Canyon of thought. Glickman made that leap in a blink. Then, he got about lobbying the NBA and assembling the franchise’s first ownership group.
“We had a noon deadline set by the NBA all those years ago,” he told me over coffee once. “I needed to get a letter of credit for $250,000 from a bank in Southern California across Los Angeles in traffic to the meeting of the existing owners. I only had 20 minutes and I wasn’t going to make it.
“There was no way with all that traffic.”
Glickman got an assist from Abe Pollin, who owned the NBA team in Washington, D.C. at the time. Pollin saw the clock ticking down and excused himself from the owner’s meeting to use the restroom. There couldn’t be a vote without all the owners in the room.
“Abe locked himself in the men’s bathroom,” Glickman said, rumbling with laughter in the coffee shop. “He wanted Portland to get the expansion team. He was on our side so he locked the door and told them, ‘Don’t anyone disturb me until Harry gets back.’”
Glickman eventually scrambled through the doors, waving the letter.
Said Glickman: “Only then did Abe come out of what was the longest bathroom break in history.”
It’s been a strange and sobering couple of years without Glickman around. The sports landscape has shifted. Revenue and television drive the conversation. Geography is de-emphasized. Tradition doesn't seem to matter. A week ago, the Pac-12 shrunk to the Pac-10 when USC and UCLA — founding members, for crying out loud — blindsided the conference and bolted for the Big Ten without telling a soul.
Harry would have hated that.
“My handshake,” Glickman always said, “is all you need.”
How do you put the godfather of sports in Oregon to rest? With music, family, friends, and good stories. Also with a former player such as Terry Porter telling the room how sorry he was that the Blazers reached the NBA Finals twice in his era but failed to win a second title for Glickman.
“We came up a little short,” Porter said, through tears.
Glickman had regrets, too. He explained once, over an iced tea at Multnomah Athletic Club, that Portland would have landed the NFL’s Seahawks if voters would have passed the bond to fund the Delta Dome.
“We were so close,” he said.
Glickman also told me he knew the Blazers would one day be sold.
“I don’t care as long as they remain in Portland,” he said.
In the end, during one of our final talks, Glickman said something somber. He talked about how many former NBA players, family members, colleagues and friends had died over the years.
“All my friends are gone,” he said.
We’ve lost one ourselves, Harry.
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