23 December 2009
Watching Joel Przybilla blow out his knee against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but think of Maurice Lucas, even before Greg Oden.
For the past few seasons – through thick and thin, a 21-win season or trip to the playoffs last season – Przybilla has essentially been Portland’s “Enforcer”.
While Lucas was originally brought to the Blazers back in 1976 from the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis to protect Bill Walton in Portland’s title run in 1977, Przybilla has watched everyone’s back since he arrived in Portland back in 2004-05 – from Brandon Roy, to Ruben Patterson to Geno Carlisle and all in between.
No question about it, Przybilla has made Portland physical, on a team that’s not even really physical.
He’s fought Tyson Chandler and Carlos Boozer, taken poundings and a jammed ball in the face from Shaq, and blocked 592 shots in his tenure with the Blazers along the way. At times, the slightest heated exchange between Joel and “fill in the blank here” on the other side seemed enough to fuel Portland’s fire.
Ask any center around this league, and they’ll say they have much respect for Joel.
Along with respect, hopefully they send their prayers.
Long before another Blazers’ center was lost for the season, my latest column – “Blazer Bonds: Lucas teaches McMillan lessons on and off the court” - ran online for the Portland Sentinel (street edition hits the first week of January) Tuesday afternoon. In it, Nate McMillan talks briefly about his frequent phone calls with Lucas, who continues to be hospitalized in his fight with cancer.
“Coach Lucas has been calling me. He hasn’t given me time to call him. He’s called me. And we talk about different things,” McMillan recently said.
You know the topic of conversation during their next call will be Joel Przybilla, and surely McMillan will pass along the story that Joel is in good spirits and knows he’ll fight back from this knee injury.
But for this writer, it’s hard not to be held nearly speechless at the fate and fall of yet another player in Portland, especially a bruiser and likeable guy like Joel. They’ll miss him in the floor. Yet I’m quick to say they’ll miss him equally in the locker room.
I’d planned on writing a quick post about chasing down the Lucas story I penned, which features McMillan’s memories on “Luke” and his cancer, including waiting almost an hour outside of Nate’s office – after his postgame presser, after his 10 minute radio interview in his office, after his 20 minute discussion with Blazers trainer Jay Jensen, after his 20 minute chalk talk with assistant coaches Joe Prunty and Dean Demopoulos, and another 5 minutes for McMillan to put on his jacket, grab his crutches and hobble to the door before realizing someone was still waiting for an interview.
In the end, he felt bad for keeping me waiting.
When we talked later on his way home, McMillan was quick to confess he wouldn’t even be coaching in Portland if it wasn’t for Lucas.
“Seriously, if Luke would have said ‘I’m not interested,’ I don’t know if I would have taken the job,” McMillan said just last week.
At a time like this, that phone conversation sounds heavier knowing Portland is without their other “Enforcer” in Joel Przybilla.
photo: oregonian's own bruce ely
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