Larry Weinberg, a former owner of the Portland Trail Blazers, has died. He was 92.
Weinberg was the sole surviving member of the original Blazers ownership group that launched an NBA team in Portland. Along with Herman Sarkowsky and Robert Schmertz, Weinberg pooled $3.7 million in 1970 to establish a team.
Schmertz died in 1975, the same year that Weinberg took over majority ownership from Sarkowsky, who shifted focus north to help manage the fledgling Seattle Seahawks of the NFL. Weinberg was team president and majority owner in 1977, when Portland won its only NBA championship.
Former Blazers executive Harry Glickman is often credited with bringing the team’s ownership group together and working closely with Weinberg to build the team.
“Under Larry’s ownership, the Portland Trail Blazers became the best franchise in the NBA,” Glickman said in a statement released by the Blazers on Wednesday. “Larry was a Blazer booster all his life and appeared at many playoff games even after he sold the club. He was a fine gentleman. Personally, I worked with him closely and we became good friends, as well as owner and employee.”
Weinberg was majority owner until he sold the team in 1988 to Paul Allen. Allen died last October, leaving the team to his sister, Jody.
Long before Weinberg was sitting courtside at Trail Blazers games, he was a 17-year-old kid from New York City who joined the U.S. Army to fight in World War II. According to a biography written for the California Homebuilders Association, Weinberg was seriously wounded in France in 1944 and was discharged a year later.
He would go on to attend Cornell University, University of Arizona and UCLA, and then stay in southern California. Starting with a few homes in the late 1940s, Weinberg went on to build one of the largest real estate empires in the country by the late ‘60s.
Weinberg took leadership roles on multiple fronts. He served on boards of the National Association of Home Builders, and was a top official with the California State Housing Commission and the Building Industry Association. His ownership of the Trail Blazers led him to chair the NBA’s Board of Governors in the early 1980s.
Weinberg was also a national leader in the Jewish-American community. In the late 1970s, he was president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful defender of Israel’s interests in the United States.
AIPAC officials released a statement praising their past president.
“Larry was instrumental in ensuring that AIPAC had a regional presence throughout the country and in encouraging pro-Israel supporters to actively engage in the political process,” the AIPAC statement said. “Perhaps most importantly, Larry’s example inspired his family to join him in pro-Israel activism.”
Oregon’s senior senator, Ron Wyden, also memorialized his “friend” Weinberg.
“Today we mourn the loss of a true mensch, Larry Weinberg,” Wyden tweeted Wednesday. “Seeing him and his wonderful wife Barbi cheering at every Trail Blazers home game was the essence of #RipCity pride.”
The Trail Blazers hung a jersey in Weinberg’s honor in the early 1990s, with his name and the No. 1 on it.
Trail Blazers vice president of communications Michael Lewelyn said Wednesday that “plans for an in-game recognition are still being developed.”
But Lewelyn was confident that the team Weinberg helped create will honor the past owner soon — likely during the team’s upcoming five-game homestand.