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Marijuana: the Blazers' Toughest Foe

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So, do the Portland Trail Blazers have a pot problem on their hands?

Nearly everyone agrees that they do, considering that four players --
including Zach Randolph, arrested this week on charges including driving
under the influence of intoxicants -- have been booked on marijuana
charges during the last 13 months.

Team management begs to differ. President Steve Patterson was very careful
Wednesday when he responded to questions about the Blazers and marijuana.

"In all fairness, there is a cultural marijuana issue in the United States
and in youth culture for the last 40 years in this country," Patterson
said. "We are also living in a state that has some of the most liberal
laws in the country, so we have a considerable mixed message in this whole

"Even so, our efforts have been toward enforcing a stricter policy on our
players than the collective bargaining agreement (between the NBA and the
players association) would lead you to believe is permissible."

Patterson said the team can't administer punitive measures on its own:

"It's a collectively bargained issue between the union and the league. We
can't just go out and suspend Zach at this time, with the lack of
information that we have."

Randolph was arrested early Tuesday in Northeast Portland while driving
his 2003 Cadillac Escalade. He was stopped for a traffic violation, and
the officer said he smelled burning marijuana coming from the vehicle.

Randolph also was charged with not having an Oregon driver's license and
driving while uninsured. The results of a urinalysis test are expected to
be released next week.

He apologized to his teammates and fans in a brief statement Wednesday but
said nothing about his arrest or behavior.

Jerome Kersey, the former Blazer who was hired earlier this year as
director of player programs, acknowledged that the team has a problem and
said it probably stems from a lack of leadership.

"Judging by the redundancy, there is definitely some kind of problem here,
and probably has been since the J.R. Rider days" (1996-99), he said. It
would help if there weren't a dearth of veteran leadership to show young
players the way, he said.

"When I played with the Blazers, we had guys to keep us in line, players
like Jim Paxson, Kenny Carr, Mychal Thompson, Caldwell Jones," Kersey
said. "Then when Clyde (Drexler), Terry (Porter) and Buck (Williams) were
with us as veteran players, we policed the young guys. We probably have a
shortage of veteran leadership on the (current) team."

Still, Patterson said, there have been some positives involving Rasheed
Wallace and Damon Stoudamire, both of whom had one or more marijuana
arrests since November 2002.

"Rasheed has fulfilled his obligations in the Washington case," he said.
"We worked very hard with Damon to have him go to a rehab program that was
far more extensive than what would have been required under the NBA's
program. He did his aftercare, and he has been very mature and clear-eyed
and done a good job. The outcome there has been a success.

"We await the tests with Zach to find out what happens there."

Patterson wouldn't say specifically whether the team had discussed
marijuana use with the players since his arrival last summer.

"We have had a lot of discussions this fall -- media issues, legal issues,
financial issues, community service issues, all kinds of things to put in
place an infrastructure that gets guys to comport themselves as adults and
the way we expect," he said.

In a reference to the team's trade of guard Bonzi Wells, he said: "If guys
aren't willing to do that, we'll do things like we did today."

When asked again about marijuana, Patterson said: "It's a part of the
league's presentation every year. We have talked about all kinds of
off-the-court issues and what our needs are."

Stoudamire was suspended indefinitely and fined $100,000 by the team after
being arrested on a marijuana possession charge at Tucson International
Airport last July. The suspension and fine were dropped after he underwent
a drug rehabilitation course in Houston later in the summer.

"David Stern (NBA president) and the people in the league office were very
helpful and cooperative with us this summer in Damon's case," Patterson
said. "The league was willing to be more cooperative because it was a
third time for Damon, and his representatives were willing to work with
us. We can't just go out and suspend Zach at this time, with the lack of
information that we have."

Marta Monetti, vice president of marketing and communications for the
team, echoed Patterson's statement that there's not much the Blazers can
do because of the union:

"The players are represented by a strong union, and the contract prohibits
us from imposing strong discipline when it comes to marijuana.
Unfortunately, our brand is tarnished. It took us a long time to get
there, and it's going to take more than a couple of months to get out of

She said the off-court problems have been especially frustrating, even as
owner Paul Allen "laid down a hard line in April that we were going to
turn things around. ... We feel we've got a lot of good people working
here, and we do a lot of good things in the community, but a single
transgression will become big news and set us back 10 steps."

Local public relations executives agreed that the drug problems will be
difficult to overcome.

Allen needs to make bold moves and be prepared for a long struggle to turn
his team around, said Pierre Ouellette, who works for Fleishman-Hillard
International Communications, formerly KVO Public Relations

Ouellette said while there's no doubt that all NBA teams have
marijuana-related problems, he'd like to see Allen and his managers launch
a crusade to reform the entire league.

"Marijuana use is endemic in the NBA," he said. "The Blazers are just the
worst-case scenario. But that gives Allen the opportunity to propose a
radical solution."

As Ouellette sees it, all teams are prevented from cracking down on
problem players by contract restrictions and by the willingness of other
teams to pick them up.

The only answer, he said, is new rules that prohibit players convicted of
drug-related crimes from playing for any team.

"As things stand now, even if the Blazers could fire some of these
players, they'd just sign up with other teams and end up playing against
the Blazers," he said.

According to Ouellette, Allen should draft new contract language for all
teams and publicly push for the NBA to adopt it.

"There's no sense trying to spin these problems," he said. "If it was just
one player, you could say he was just an isolated case. But with the
Blazers, it's a pattern, and everyone can see that."

Veteran public affairs consultant Darrell Buttice, a partner with Conklin
Fiskum & McCormick, said Allen has already made a number of significant
decisions, including replacing unpopular President Bob Whitsitt and
trading Bonzi Wells.

"Allen has made it clear he is committed to reconnecting the Blazers with
Portland's values," Buttice said. "The coach and managers have gotten the
message, but the culture of the players hasn't changed yet. Trading Wells
should them a strong message, but they aren't going to change overnight.
Allen needs to be prepared for the long haul."

Attendance has declined sharply at Blazer home games this season, falling
from an average of 19,419 tickets sold or distributed last year to 16,522
through the first six games of this season.



The Blazers' laundry list of marijuana arrests includes:

Damon Stoudamire and Rasheed Wallace were cited on marijuana possession
charges in Centralia, Wash., on Nov. 21, 2002. Prosecutors agreed to drop
the charges against both players if they did not break any law within a

Wallace made it, but Stoudamire was arrested July 3 with approximately 40
grams of marijuana wrapped in tinfoil at the Tucson International Airport.
If convicted in Arizona of possession charges, he could serve up to six
months in jail in Lewis County, Wash.

Stoudamire also was charged in February 2002 with possession of a pound of
marijuana found in his Lake Oswego home. But the charges were eventually
dismissed when a judge ruled that police searched his home illegally and
the evidence was suppressed. The ruling has been appealed.

According to Portland police reports, Qyntel Woods told an officer he was
addicted to marijuana when he was being cited for possession of less than
an ounce of the drug, violating the basic rule, and driving without a
valid license or insurance on April 3.

This week's arrest was not Zach Randolph's first brush with the law. While
attending high school in Marion, Ind., he reportedly was convicted of
shoplifting, battery and possession of stolen guns.

The arrest also came approximately 18 months after Randolph was arrested
for being a minor in possession of alcohol in Marion, where police said
his blood alcohol level was 0.08 percent when he was pulled over while
driving May 23, 2002.

And then there are Ruben Patterson and Bonzi Wells, neither of whom has
been busted for pot. But both have had their share of run-ins with

Patterson was convicted of attempted rape of his family's nanny while
playing with the Seattle SuperSonics and of misdemeanor assault for
breaking a man's jaw outside a Cleveland nightclub. In November 2002, he
was arrested on a felony domestic abuse charge; the charge was dropped
after his wife, Shannon, later declined to press charges.

Wells, who was traded to Memphis on Wednesday, also had run-ins with the
law in both Portland and Indiana. After his sophomore season at Ball State
University, he was arrested for domestic battery after a woman accused him
of striking her when she refused to have sex with him. Wells was jailed
briefly, posted $2,000 bond and was released.

And in September 2001, Wells and another former Blazer, Erick Barkley,
were cited by Portland police for criminal trespass after allegedly
refusing to leave the scene of a fight near a downtown nightclub. Portland
police Sgt. Brian Schmautz said the two shouted profanities at officers
who asked them to leave. No charges were filed.

Author: Kerry Eggers and Jim Redden, The Tribune
Source: Portland Tribune
Contact: letters@portlandtribune.com
Website: Pamplin Media Group - Home
Pubdate: Friday, December 5, 2003