Everybody’s favorite Blazer

Many here in Rip City didn’t learn of the Rattler’s inimitablecharms until he arrived last season in the wake of a controversialtrade that left the Blazers without their star forward, RasheedWallace.

I always loved Sheed (he’s a Philly boy, after all), and waspretty nervous about whom we’d get in return. So I was delighted tosee ex-Sixer Theo Ratliff pull on the red-black-and-white. Here’s ashort history on the man who wants to win back the hearts of theBlazers’ faithful.

Theopholus Curtis Ratliff was born in 1975 in the small town ofDemopolis in Marengo County, Alabama. His single mother, Camilia,raised three young men, and she did a damn fine job: his brotherThaddius is a chemist, Timothy is a financial consultant and sheherself is the programs director for senior citizens in 10 Alabamacounties.

“My mother was basically my father, also,” Theo said. “She hadto tell us about manly things, she had to make sure we learned howto grow up and be successful. We were always together, alwayssupported one another.”

He suffered from a birth defect that left him in a leg braceuntil he was six, but Ratliff didn’t let that stop him. Duringmiddle school he worked hard on his coordination, and it paid off.Theo’s high school coach, Luke Hallmark, observed, “By the time hewas a senior, he had a little nasty in him. He blocked everythingthat came in the gym.”

In college at Wyoming, Ratliff amassed 1,142 points and 655rebounds, and was the second all-time NCAA shot blocker with 425(Alonzo Mourning is the first, with 453). Theo was only the fifthplayer in NCAA history to block more than 400, and hisblocks-per-game average is third, behind only David Robinson andShaquille O’Neal.

Though drafted by the Pistons, it was as a Sixer that he cameinto his own. His second year there, the 76ers went to thepost-season for the first time in eight years. But a wrist injuryin February of 2001 sidelined him and prevented him from appearingin his first All-Star Game, to which the fans had voted him astarter. This injury spelled his end in Philadelphia, and he wastraded to Atlanta, eventually coming to Portland, where, accordingto Coach Cheeks, “[He] has been huge for us. He gives us a bigpresence in the middle that we didn’t have before.” Chalking up4.41 blocks-per-game, Theo again led the league, a feat he’d alsoaccomplished in 2001.

I’m a convert. When I saw the Blazers play Golden State latelast year (their last victory, as it depressingly turned out), Theowas absolutely vast in the paint, and his eventual nine blocks madethe game seem more like volleyball than hoops (I’m not sure howhe’d look in a bikini, though).

This summer the Blazers signed Ratliff to a three-year contractextension, a nod as much to the fabulous abilities of this veteranplayer as to his class, poise and character. His hometown iscurrently in the process of establishing a “Theo Ratliff Day” as anofficial citywide holiday. If he performs as well as he did lastseason, we in Portland may well look to follow suit.