The Jail Blazers era has come to define the late 1990s and early 2000s Portland Trail Blazers, when a medley of talent meshed with some of the more flamboyant characters in NBA history. The team made as many headlines for their off-court exploits as they did for playing basketball. Damon Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace, Jermaine O'Neal, Zach Randolph, J.R. Rider, Greg Anthony, Bonzi Wells, Shawn Kemp, Qyntel Woods, and others have become synonymous with some serious hooping, but also internal dysfunction, which is covered in Kerry Eggers' new book, Jail Blazers: How the Trail Blazers Became the Bay Boys of Basketball out last month. On Monday, Sports Illustrated published an excerpt from the book, about a former flight attendant for team owner Paul Allen who flew with the Blazers on their road trips for almost a decade and has a few stories to tell as a result.
Among the most damning stories from Stephanie Smith-Leckness, focuses on the flippancy of coach Mike Dunleavy, who helmed the Blazers from 1998-2001.
"Some of the players were horrible," she says in the book. "J. R. Rider once had his finger in the face of [fellow flight attendant] Donna Clark. It was something over tuna fish, if I remember right, and it happened right in the coaches’ portion of the airplane. They sat in the back in the first-class seats. Not one coach even looked at him. No one stood up. I remember running back there and telling [Rider], ‘Get your finger out of her face.’ She was shaking and had tears in her eyes.
Smith-Leckness continued, "I know the guy was crazy, but nobody did anything. It was really sad. The guy had a screw loose. He just wasn’t well. I was appalled the coaches didn’t say anything. No judgment. It was months later when I realized the guy was a really loose cannon."
Rider wasn't the exception, though. Other players skirted the rules as well, by bringing cannabis on the plane. "I smelled [pot] a few times," Smith recounts. "I went to who I thought put it there and told him, 'I’ll pull it out the next time and show it to customs.' Never had that happen again."
Perhaps the most eye-opening moment for Smith-Leckness came when Jermaine O'Neal asked, via coach Dunleavy, if she could see his new home. Dunleavy accompanied her to the house, which smelled pretty bad, but not how you might think.
"Jermaine had a bunch of family members living there. They were all eating and watching TV and playing video games, and the house was a mess. He opened up the garage door. It stunk bad, and there was a load of stuffed full trash bags in there. Mike said, 'Jermaine, it stinks.' He said, 'They told me to put it in the garage.' Mike said, 'You have to put it on the curb, and somebody will pick it up if you sign up for service.' His family members, who were mooching off of him, didn’t know enough to say, 'Let’s put the garbage out by the curb.'"