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The Voice of Rip City has fallen silent
Legendary Trailblazers broadcaster Bill Schonely passes away at age 93
Bill Schonely, who will forever be tied to the NBA’S Portland Trailblazers, has died. The long-time broadcaster and creator of the Blazer’s famous “Rip City” battle cry was 93 years old.
Announcement of the Schonz’s passing came early Saturday from his biographer, longtime Portland sports journalist Kerry Eggers, who posted the sad news on twitter.
Schonely was associated with the Trailblazers team for over 50 years, announcing his retirement last year. He joined the Blazers in their inaugural season in 1970, after spending several years in the Northwest announcing hockey with the Seattle Totems of the Western Hockey League, and for the short-lived Seattle Pilots major league baseball team.
The iconic “Rip City” catch phrase was blurted out by the Schonz during a Blazer game against the Los Angeles Lakers in February of 1971. Portland had been down by twenty-plus points in the contest, but made a valiant comeback. When Jim Barnett made a deep shot (this was before the three-point shot), Schonely yelled “Rip City!” The rest is history.
Schonz shared that he was trying to find the words for the shot and wanted to say something like “Rip the twine,” but the words that came out have been forever cemented in Trailblazer lore. The team has a set of jerseys with the phrase emblazoned across the chest.
Rip City was the most famous, but not the only phrase in Schonely’s broadcast lexicon. Bingo-bango-bongo—ususally uttered after a series of quick passes and a score—is one that many recall. Lickety-brindle-up-the-middle… for a quick drive and score; and the almost lectured phrase of you gotta make your three throws are among others that come to mind.
I worked as an intern at KEX Radio in the early 1980s when they were part of the Blazers network. I admit to being a little intimidated by the man with the big voice and even bigger reputation, but he was a kind man with a warm smile and a quick wit. I once watched him knock out a series of Blazer promos on the first take.
I was also present when the Schonz showed up at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis to temporarily fill-in for Oregon State broadcaster Darrell Aune—who was having eye surgery. I wasn’t smart enough to take any photos of the rare broadcaster substitution, but it sticks vividly in my mind’s eye to this day. Both Schonz and Darrell were broadcast role models for me for decades, and I even had the honor of working with Aune at Western Oregon University for a couple of years.
Early memories of calls by the Schonz are etched vividly in my memory. I listened as an impressionable ten-year-old to the first season of Blazer basketball, and followed them for many years, including the 1977 championship season. I was videotaping the Sprague High School graduation as a junior when Portland was facing Philadelphia in the NBA Championship Series. Many of us in that hot gymnasium had transistor radios in our ears during the the broadcast that night. The resulting celebration of the franchise’s only title later in the week will long be remembered by native Oregonians like yours truly.
There are many other people I know who have had even more cherished recollections of the Schonz. He was always happy to sign autographs, took part in celebrity appearances at events like golf tournaments, and simply served as a great envoy of Rip City.
After 28 years behind the mic—from 1970 to 1998, Bill was released from his announcing job—which created some hard feelings amongst fans missing his dramatic call of Blazer broadcasts. But he returned to the team in 2003 to serve as an ambassador to fans, shaking hands and sometimes making introductions during home games.
Schonely’s broadcast greatness over the years has not been overlooked. Schonz was inducted in the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2012, he earned the Curt Gowdy sportscasting award from the NBA”s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Over the past year, Bill and wife Dottie had battled illness that comes with aging, including a case of COVID. Bill still managed to make a handful of personal appearances to promote his biography written by Eggers, entitled Wherever You May Be… Now—the Bill Schonely Story.
Bill’s life is a storied one—filled with plenty of interpersonal remembrances for so many of us across Oregon. To borrow from Bill’s own lexicon, he has “climbed the golden ladder” to join other great broadcasters—like Dick Enberg and Vin Scully—in the great broadcast booth in the sky.
Rip City, Schonz. You were and are—unforgettable.
Feel free to share your remembrances of Bill Schonely in the comments section below.