Harry Glickman, the founder of the Portland Trail Blazers, has died. He was 96.
Glickman is credited with bringing together the ownership group that acquired the Blazers. He was a top executive with the team when the Blazers won their only championship in 1977.
Glickman was born in Portland on May 13, 1924. In a July 2015 interview with OPB’s "Oregon Experience," he recalled growing up on a bustling corner in the middle of Portland, near a bakery and pickle shop, and close to the Jewish community center, the neighborhood hub. He played a lot of basketball, and as young as 8, sold newspapers.
“Just about every kid up there that I grew up with sold newspapers,” Glickman recalled. “Had either a building or a corner. My first one was 4th and Yamhill. Later, 2nd and Alder — that was a good one, because all the streetcars stopped there at the time.”
This was during the Great Depression, and Glickman said his income was critical to helping the family.
“Every nickel and dime was important in those days,” Glickman said. “... My mother ...worked and there were five seasons — summer, winter, fall, spring and slack. Slack was when there was no work, and that happened all through the time, but we never went hungry or anything like that.”
Glickman joined the U.S. Army and served in an armored division during World War II in France and Germany. When he returned to the United States, he attended the University of Oregon and got into sports reporting, promotions and public relations.
He remembered early on wanting to be a sports announcer, and later a sports writer.
“When I found out, they got into all the games free, then I find out, ‘Hey they got paid for doing this,’ well, how could it be any better?’ And I’ve been a sports nut all my life,” he said in 2015.
Glickman owned a minor league hockey team, called the Portland Buckaroos, which whet his appetite for operating sports franchises and gave him insight into the world of professional athletics.
That helped set up his lasting legacy as the man who brought the Trail Blazers to Portland.
Harry’s son Marshall was 10 when his dad was working to get an NBA team. He remembers it almost didn’t happen.
“We had just moved into a new house on Sylvan, and I remember sort of bad news, and I think the bad news was that it fell apart,” Marshall Glickman said in a recent interview. “It wasn't going to happen. He couldn't raise the money finally.”
But one of Harry Glickman’s lasting traits was his determination, and the sports entrepreneur didn’t give up. He pulled together a group of three investors — all from outside of Portland — Herman Sarkowsky, Larry Weinberg and Robert Schmertz. They would raise the $3.7 million necessary to buy Portland a team.
Marshall Glickman credits two of his father’s attributes for landing the team. First, he loved and understood Portland. And second, he had an innate talent for establishing trust with people.
“His whole mantra was just about a handshake, meaning this whole idea of integrity,” Marshall Glickman said. “He gained the trust of people really, really quickly.”
Harry Glickman would become the Blazers top executive for the next two decades, including during the team’s fabled championship run in 1977. He remained with the team after Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen purchased it in 1988, and supervised deep playoff runs in the 1990s, but not another title.
The late David Stern, NBA commissioner throughout Glickman’s time with the Trail Blazers, recalled attending games in Portland during those seasons when the team came close to winning another title.
In a 2019 interview shortly before he died, Stern acknowledged that the same fierce determination that helped land a franchise for Portland made him a tough negotiator as the team’s executive. Stern said that he and the Blazers’ executive didn’t always agree, but they remained friends.
“The best thing about Harry was that, and I enjoyed it — is that he never left any doubt about how he felt on any given situation,” Stern said. “He was uniformly, direct, passionate, and unyielding if he believes in something and he never beat around the bush and I kind of enjoyed his company and the way he delivered on things.”
Glickman would still attend Trail Blazers’ games long after he left the team in the 1990s, as the team brought in new management.
Stern suggested Glickman’s legacy in professional sports may be his attitude about the place of a sports team in a city. He said Glickman saw the Blazers as much more than a business.
“One of the things that Harry emphasized was that a franchise should be treated as a community asset,” Stern said. “And when you treat it as a community asset, you begin to function in a certain way that I think led the way for many of our teams who focused on the service to the community and being an important part of the community.”
The Glickman family is directing donations in his memory to the Oregon Jewish Museum & Center for Holocaust Education, Congregation Beth Israel or the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.