The soft-spoken man now at the helm of the University of Portland’s basketball program has been a hoops legend since before most students were born. He squared off against Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the Finals. He was a two-time NBA All-Star. His retired jersey hangs in the Moda Center rafters. He appeared on Dairy Queen glasses and Nike posters in the early 1990s that remain popular with Blazermaniacs to this day.
Your daddy knows his name. Your momma loved him.
But Terry Porter doesn’t talk about that now.
In his new Chiles Center office, most of Porter’s decorations are photographs of his wife, Susie, and three children, Brianna, Franklin and Malcolm. The only physical reminders of his Rip City playing days are an action figure on his desk and a framed No. 30 jersey that leans against the wall. Fittingly, the room has a family first vibe.
The Porters arrived on The Bluff as a package deal: Terry, the Blazers’ former star point guard, is joined by his two basketball-playing sons, who are ready to help him revive an inconsistent program. That deal comes with some fine print that will require a little patience. Franklin, 21, will redshirt this season after transferring from St. Mary’s, where he spent one season. Malcolm, a 19-year-old freshman guard, will also redshirt as he waits his turn on a roster with a deep backcourt.
The logistics are a reminder that, contrary to popular belief, not everything comes easy for the sons of professional athletes. Stephen Curry might have followed in his dad’s footsteps and Lebron James Jr. is already getting attention from colleges while in elementary school, but Franklin and Malcolm join the Pilots having walked a much different path.
“[I tell my sons] not to worry about coming from an NBA dad,” Porter told The Beacon. “Rarely do you find a dad who had great professional success and then his sons or daughters have gone on to maintain or exceed that level of success in that particular sport. It’s just freaking hard.” Instead of heaping on the pressure, Porter plans to mold his two sons, and the rest of the Pilots, with his natural soft touch.
A local legend turns coach
Portlanders were on a one-name basis with Porter’s Blazers teams: Buck, Duck, Jerome, Clyde and Terry. The last two, 10-time All-Star Clyde Drexler and Porter, formed one of the best backcourts in NBA history.
“Back then, you lived in a community,” Susie Porter said. “Fans felt like they knew [the Blazers] as people, not just basketball people. You didn’t just see them on the court. The best compliment people have ever given us is, 'Oh my gosh, Terry is so normal.’”
Drexler was Batman, a high-flying “Dream Team” member and Hall of Famer who teamed with Hakeem Olajuwon at the University of Houston. Porter was a playmaking, three-point-shooting Robin, who was a late-first round pick after working his way up from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, an NAIA school.
“There are a lot of good memories,” Drexler told The Beacon. “Terry is a really nice guy. Great player. Great teammate. We got along from the beginning. I do remember that it took him a while to get the starting job because we had three or four point guards on the team. But once he earned that spot, he kept it for many, many years.”
After a decade with Portland, Porter signed with Minnesota as a free agent in 1996 and later made stops in Miami and San Antonio. He retired in 2002 after a 17-year career, but he is still recognized around town to this day.
“When people come up and want to take a picture, it’s a reminder of a special time,” Porter said. “I always say, ‘I’m an old, washed up player’ but people hold on to those memories. How the Blazers fit into their childhood, or with their relationship with their dad, listening to the games on the radio or going to games. You have to appreciate that.”
Known for his headiness as a point guard, Porter made a quick transition into coaching. He began as an assistant for Sacramento before accepting Milwaukee’s head coaching job in 2003. After the Bucks failed to make a playoff appearance with an injury-ridden roster, Porter was fired in 2005. Three years later, Porter was given a second chance, hired to coach the Phoenix Suns. The roster included Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal and Amar’e Stoudemire. Even though he had a winning record, he was unceremoniously cast aside after just four months due to stylistic differences.
Susie said her husband was “hurt and upset” by the firings, but added that he was “a person who would never hold a grudge or burn any bridges.” Although Porter admitted that he has “heard it all” and is accustomed to criticism, he worried about the impact it would have on his children. His sons heard from classmates about how Porter was a “terrible” coach. The day after the Suns fired Porter, Franklin, a seventh-grader at the time, told his father that he didn’t want to go to school.
“It’s very, very difficult because if [someone out of the public eye] gets fired, it’s not going to be the lead in on sports radio,” Porter said. “It’s not going to be on the evening news. A kid has to develop a new toughness when they have a dad in that high-profile type of employment.”
After Phoenix, Porter spent three seasons as an assistant for Minnesota’s Rick Adelman, his old coach in Portland. When Adelman retired in 2014, Porter realized that after roughly three decades in and around the NBA, pursuing the best opportunities to provide for his family financially, it was time for him to take a break and move back to Portland. He worried that he had spent too much time away from his children as they grew up. He worried that he had moved them around too often.
“Anybody who has to leave their family behind when their kids are at a young age, it’s hard,” Porter said. “[Not being there] to wake up with them every day, have breakfast with them, be there at night to talk to them about their day. It’s hard.”
Mom’s watchful eye and dad’s shadow
There were many times Susie Porter felt like a single parent. Just two weeks after she gave birth to Malcolm in Portland, Susie and Terry moved to Minnesota. But as the children grew up, the Porters constantly had to decide whether to move to Terry’s next career stop or to stay behind. Moving meant uprooting the family, finding new schools and making new friends. Staying meant that Terry would have to call in from across the country to back up Susie’s orders about no seconds for dessert.
“I would get comfortable one place and then have to move to the next,” Malcolm said. “It was tough but I knew for my dad, it was what was best for him. Back then I was like, ‘Why are we moving again?’ Every time I got close to someone we had to move. So, I was kind of sad about that.”
Malcolm and Franklin have nothing bad to say about their father. Sure, they missed him being home at times, but they enjoyed the perks too. They grew up shooting hoops with Tim Duncan, Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups, and they had Tony Parker over for dinner. Malcolm even became best buddies with O’Neal.
But the boys point to Susie as the one who made things work behind the scenes.
“My mom is the rock of the family,” Franklin told The Beacon. “Whenever we moved, she took care of everything. She was always home so she was taking care of us all the time – organizing everything because my dad was gone a lot. She held everything together.”
One thing Susie couldn’t do, though, was shield her boys from attention, especially once they began playing basketball themselves. Both boys and their father agree that Malcolm, who starred at Jesuit High School, felt Terry’s shadow more. His games were covered regularly by OregonLive.com and opponents would get extra excited to play against him because of his pedigree. Franklin, meanwhile, went to boarding school all the way on the East Coast to breathe his own air.
“I think it was good for me to be on my own,” Franklin said. “Because I went there and I didn’t know anyone there. It was different for Malcolm because he played high school basketball here (in Portland) and he had the pressure of being Terry Porter’s son and everyone knowing who he was. But out there, people didn’t know who I was.”
It’s a conversation Porter has had with his sons many times: You don’t need to live up to the bar I set. He told them, “Hey, that’s me. You got to be you. You’ve got to find your own path and play the way that’s going to fit you. Don’t try to do things that I did.”
At Portland, Franklin and Malcolm are bound to feel the pressure, whether Porter likes it or not. The good news: Neither expects to play in the NBA. In fact, Franklin giggled at the prospect. But he also pointed out that St. Mary’s listed his father’s basketball accomplishments in his personal biography. And when the boys arrived at the Chiles Center as Pilots for the first time, they could hear the whispers of, “He’s only here because he’s the coach’s son.”
A new leader
Porter’s coaching style on the sidelines stands in stark contrast to his Pilots predecessor, Eric Reveno. Unlike Reveno, he doesn’t yell. He crouches on the baseline and eyes his players as he processes feedback. Instead of barking instructions, he calls his players over while the opponent is shooting free-throws and places a hand on their backs as he explains the adjustments.
“He’s very introspective,” Susie said. “There’s a silence about him, and yet his actions speak louder than words. He is the kind of guy who can give you a look instead of having to say something and you know exactly where he stands.”
But what is introspective to some makes others question his coaching abilities. He was known as a hard-working and accomplished player, but his coaching chops were questioned following his brief head coaching stints in the NBA. When he was hired by UP last April, there were even skeptics who wondered whether he had the right personality and the recruiting ability to succeed.
This season, Porter will do what he can with a limited roster. He knows there is a hole at center, that his guys can’t stack up against someone like Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski. After recent preseason exhibition games, Porter mutters about his puzzle of big men. He also acknowledged that his backcourt, led by talented senior Alec Wintering, is undersized.
There is pressure to compete in a conference that has always been top-heavy. Reveno had 10 years to break through to the top but couldn’t quite make the success stick. Although Porter won’t be expected to transform Pilots basketball overnight, he will be expected to capitalize on the hype that was generated by his hire.
There’s no question he’s made an impact already, even though the season hasn’t begun. Season ticket sales have increased 30 percent this season. Security has been tightened at practices and games. And even though Porter is around campus every day, nervous students still ask him for autographs when he is sitting with his family in the Pilot House.
While Pilots fans will get their chance to judge Porter this year and his sons next year, his wife has already reached her verdict. She’s glad Porter is coaching in college because “he has so much to teach these young men about basketball and life.” She’s glad her husband will be able to see her sons play at the next level. And she’s glad that her sons will get to make up for the times they might have missed out on earlier in their lives.
“UP is just the perfect fit for everybody,” Susie said. “Our family has sacrificed so many years being apart for his career. For us all to be in this one spot at this one point is just perfect timing.”