Photo: Oregon Historical Society
From the Portland Trail Blazers:
Trail Blazers founding broadcaster Bill Schonely passed away on Saturday, January 21 at the age of 93.
Schonely was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, the first-born child of Walter and Juanita Schonely. He served in the Marine Corps, where he hosted a sports show for Armed Forces Radio overseas. Schonely then continued his broadcast career in Seattle with radio station KVI and as the voice of the Seattle Totems in the Western Hockey League. His wide-ranging sports broadcasting experience also included University of Washington football, Seattle Angels baseball, the Oakland Seals in the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball’s Seattle Pilots before joining the Trail Blazers.
Team founder Harry Glickman hired Schonely as the sixth employee in the organization’s history and quickly tasked him with assembling a radio network to introduce Oregonians to the Trail Blazers organization. With a gift for creative enthusiasm, he coined many iconic catchphrases during his time with the team, none greater than “Rip City”, now synonymous with the team and the city of Portland.
Serving as the team’s play-by-play voice for nearly 30 years, he called more than 2,500 games including the team’s incredible championship run in 1977 and the exciting runs throughout the 1990s. Schonely maintained a streak of calling games throughout his 30-year run that was only interrupted in 1982-83 when he stepped away to recover from heart bypass surgery. In 1999, Schonely was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame for broadcasting and in 2012, he was awarded the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game as an outstanding broadcaster.
Schonely deeply valued his relationships within the community, and beginning in 2003, he served as a Trail Blazers Ambassador, supporting the team’s outreach mission while maintaining connections with the Rip City community and appearing on various radio and television broadcasts. He retired from the organization at the conclusion of the 2021-22 NBA season after more than 50 years with the Trail Blazers.
"The Mayor of Rip City” supported numerous charitable causes, notably the American Heart Association and the Providence Child Center, which in 2009 established the “Bill’s Kids Fund” to honor his longstanding dedication to and compassion for the medically fragile children who call the center home.
Schonely’s wife of 31 years, Dottie Schonely, was by his side when he passed.
"We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Trail Blazers legendary broadcaster Bill Schonely," said Dewayne Hankins, President of Business Operations for the Trail Blazers. "Our hearts go out to his wife, Dottie, and the entire Schonely family during this difficult time. Bill was a warm, engaging and sharp person – always up for a joke, a keen observation or a kind remark. His mark on the organization, the state of Oregon and all of sports broadcasting will be felt for generations. No one loved Rip City more than Bill did and we are all forever grateful for his contributions to the community."
“The Schonz was a cornerstone of the organization since Day 1. He was the ultimate Trail Blazer – the voice of the Trail Blazers,” said Trail Blazers Alumni Ambassador Terry Porter. “He was someone that Blazers fans grew up listening to for many, many generations. His voice will be missed, his presence will be missed, but his legacy will not be forgotten. It’s intertwined with every part of this organization.”
In Schonely’s honor, there will be a private service and public celebration of life. Details will be made available at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations are requested to be made to Providence Child Center and the American Heart Association in honor of Bill.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden posted on Twitter:
My friend Bill Schonely provided the soundtrack for generations of @trailblazers fans and forever made our beloved Portland into #RipCity. I join all of #RipCity in extending condolences to Bill’s wife Dottie & his entire family. RIP to a true Oregon legend.