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January 21, 2023
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Bill Schonely, the Trail Blazers’ original radio broadcaster who coined the iconic phrase “Rip City” that became synonymous with Portland and its basketball team, has passed away. He was 93.
With his deep voice and memorable catchphrases like bingo-bango-bongo, and lickety-brindle-up-the-middle, Schonely broadcast games for the first 28 seasons of the Blazers, including a two-year stint from 1992-94 as the team’s television play-by-play man.
The team said Schonely died with his wife, Dottie, by his side. A cause of death was not released.
During a game in the team’s inaugural season, in February 1971, Schonely blurted “Rip City, all right!” after Jim Barnett made a long shot during a comeback against the Los Angeles Lakers at Memorial Coliseum. Writers and statisticians looked at him in wonderment, but eventually told him “Leave it in.”
By the time Portland roared to the 1977 NBA championship, “Rip City” could be seen on T-shirts, shoes and even coloring books.
Since 2009, the team used the phrase on one of its uniform options, with “rip city” in lowercase letters replacing Blazers on the front of the jerseys. Its debut marked the first time the uniform had said anything other than Portland or Blazers.
Schonely got the phrase from his days of calling baseball in Seattle, where players would refer to line drives as “rips.”
“That night, I got caught up in the excitement and it just came out of my mouth; it wasn’t something that was planned,’’ Schonely said in 2009.
“It took a little while for that phrase to catch on,” Schonely said of “Rip City” in April 2022 as the team honored him at halftime of its season finale against the Utah Jazz. “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.’”
The staying power of “Rip City” spoke to the popularity of Schonely, who annually traveled the state promoting the team to radio affiliates and fans. He went to Astoria, Klamath Falls, Pendleton and everywhere in between. Even when players accompanied him, they said he was often the bigger draw.
Team founder Harry Glickman once called him “one of the most recognizable guys in Oregon,” and long after Schonely stopped calling games in 1998, he remained one of the most popular and lasting personalities in Blazers history. For two seasons he did sideline reporting and features for the television broadcast, and from 2003 until April 2022 he remained with the team as an ambassador.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Trail Blazers legendary broadcaster Bill Schonely,” Dewayne Hankins, president of business operations for the Trail Blazers, said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to his wife, Dottie, and the entire Schonely family during this difficult time.
“Bill was a warm, engaging and sharp person — always up for a joke, a keen observation or a kind remark. His mark on the organization, the state of Oregon and all of sports broadcasting will be felt for generations. No one loved Rip City more than Bill did and we are all forever grateful for his contributions to the community.”
After his broadcasting career, Schonely was a fixture at home games. Before games, he mingled with fans at “Schonely’s Place,” a bar named after him in the arena concourse. As tip off neared, he habitually shook the hand of the head coach as a good luck gesture. And on several occasions, he performed his rendition of “God Bless America,” urging fans to sing along.