When the Oregon Historical Society honored Harry Glickman for career accomplishments in September, they added a prize to his long list of illustrious and well-deserved awards. Inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1995 and the inaugural class of the Oregon Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2012, Glickman is known as the state’s “father of professional sports.”
After founding Portland’s National Basketball Association franchise in 1970, Glickman served as the Blazers’ general manager until 1987 and later became president and president emeritus. He also brought professional hockey to the city when he helped found the Portland Buckaroos in 1960.
“I’ve always had a passion for sports,” Glickman said during an interview in his Pearl District condominium. Born in 1924 to Russian and Polish immigrants, Glickman grew up in Old South Portland and played basketball with the B’nai B’rith Cardinals under the great coach Harry Policar.
Realizing he would never be a professional basketball player, Glickman decided to become a sportswriter. After he graduated from the University of Oregon journalism school, his promised job at The Oregonian went to a returning vet. He switched to promoting sports events.
“When they built the Memorial Coliseum, we got the Portland Buckaroos,” he said. “They were a great team, a great bunch of people – all Canadians. Many stayed in Portland and still live here.” The Buckaroos became one of the most successful franchises in minor league hockey history. Then, in 1970, with help from three successful real estate professionals, Glickman won an expansion franchise with the National Basketball Association and became the Portland Trailblazers’ general manager. Seven years later, the team won the national championship.
“The key thing was winning the coin flip they had between two colleges,” he said. “As the first pick in the college draft, we got Bill Walton. We had four first-round draft choices, three second-round draft choices and two third-round draft choices. Nine of the 12 players were our own picks in the draft. Stu Inman, director of player personnel, put the team together. And we had an outstanding coach, Jack Ramsey, and a wonderful assistant, Jack McKinney. We wanted the Blazers not only to be a Portland team but an Oregon and Northwest team. We ended with the largest radio network in the NBA.
“Historically, general managers were guys in charge of the team,” Glickman continued. “They selected the draft and made trades. When I took the title ‘general manager,’ I divorced the two things. I took over the financial part of the business. Public relations, tickets sales, television and radio were all under me. That left Stu to concentrate on basketball. Today, it’s back to where most general managers are into basketball and have a chief financial officer and public relations people. We’re back to where the general manager looks over playing issues.”
Looking back over the years, Glickman sees two Portland dynasties. “The Buckaroos were one,” he said. “They won the championship eight times. The other is the Linfield College football program. They’ve gone 59 years without a losing season. Two Portland dynasties, and the University of Portland women’s soccer team is not too far behind.”
Regarding change, the greatest improvement, he said, are the players themselves. “The athletes aren’t smarter but they are bigger, faster and stronger. They’re better athletes. Nutrition and medical technology have changed. When we were in hockey, if a player had a torn cartilage, he could have six weeks off. Now he’s back in two days.”
And, what is his greatest professional accomplishment? Even more than winning the NBA championship in 1977, he said, was getting Portland into the major leagues of professional sports. “It enhances your image and cements the community. One of the writers at The Oregonian said, when you mention Portland, people no longer think of Maine. I think in 1990 we lost in the finals to Detroit. I got a call the next week from the manager of the Portland Chamber of Commerce. They’d had more inquiries about locating businesses here than in any time since he’d arrived. He attributed that to the Blazers.”
Polina Olsen is an author and freelance writer in Portland.