Harry Glickman, who founded the Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association and was widely considered the father of professional sports in Oregon, died on Wednesday in Portland. He was 96.
His death, at an assisted living center, was confirmed by his son, Marshall.
Mr. Glickman held many titles for the Trail Blazers: executive vice president from 1970 to 1987, general manager from 1976 to 1981, president from 1987 to 1994. He was also a tireless promoter and a civic-minded entrepreneur in an era that predated the rise of billion-dollar sports franchises.
“He was just one of those pure guys who loves the state and the city he came from,” Chris McGowan, the Trail Blazers’ president, said in a phone interview, “and he did everything he could to enrich it.”
Mr. Glickman helped shape the Trail Blazers into one of the N.B.A.’s great success stories. Like most expansion teams, they got off to a slow start. But, led by Bill Walton at center, they won a championship in their seventh season, and they frequently made the playoffs and consistently drew capacity crowds for many years.
Mr. Glickman had long since retired from his front-office position when Mr. McGowan took charge of the team in 2012, but he still valued the organization and the city he called home. He sought out Mr. McGowan, who was relocating from Los Angeles, after his introductory news conference and extended an invitation: How about they take a tour of Portland the next day?
“He came and got me, and we literally spent three hours driving around Portland,” Mr. McGowan recalled. “He showed me all the landmarks, where the Blazers had their championship parade, the basketball courts where Bill Walton spent time. I’ll never forget it.”
Harry Glickman was born in Portland on May 13, 1924, and raised there by his mother, Bessie, who worked in the garment industry, after she and his father, Sam, divorced.
He enrolled at the University of Oregon to study journalism, but left to spend three years with the Seventh Army’s 12th Armored Division during World War II. He was elevated to the rank of staff sergeant while serving in Europe, and was awarded a Bronze Star.
After returning home, Mr. Glickman completed his degree and hoped to write about sports for one of Portland’s two daily newspapers. But, unable to land a job right away, he gravitated to the business of promoting sports. He staged boxing events and lured the Harlem Globetrotters and the National Football League to Portland for exhibitions.
He also promoted concerts, though he soured on the experience of working with high-profile entertainers after Judy Garland canceled a couple of tour stops at the last minute.
“She made a sports fan out of me,” Mr. Glickman once said, according to The Oregonian.
Mr. Glickman was the president of a company called Oregon Sports Attractions and, in 1960, founded a minor-league hockey team, the Portland Buckaroos, which went on to win three league championships in front of adoring crowds.
Convinced that Portland was a viable home for big-time sports, he sought to land one of the N.F.L.’s expansion franchises in the mid-1960s. He received assurances from his friend Pete Rozelle, then the league’s commissioner, that it would happen if the city were to approve the construction of a 40,000-seat stadium, the Delta Dome. But the proposal fell short by about 10,000 votes, and the Delta Dome was doomed.
Mr. Glickman was undeterred. As the N.B.A. sought to expand in 1970, he lined up several wealthy investors to buy one of the league’s new franchises for $3.7 million.
The Trail Blazers were not an immediate success. Fewer than 5,000 fans showed up on Oct. 16, 1970, for the team’s first home game, a 115-112 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers that provided false hope: The Trail Blazers were one of the worst teams in the league through their first four seasons of existence.
But Mr. Glickman had a motto, “You win with good people,” and the Trail Blazers eventually grew into a winner. Walton joined the team in 1974 after an All-American career at the University of California, Los Angeles, and later helped lead the Trail Blazers to the championship, an achievement that Mr. Glickman described as “total, complete ecstasy.” Mr. Glickman’s autography, “Promoter Ain’t a Dirty Word,” was published after that season.
The team continued to be enormously popular, selling out 814 straight home games between 1977 and 1995 and winning the Western Conference championship in 1990 and 1992.
Even after Mr. Glickman retired, he remained an active presence around the organization. He was president emeritus until he died.
Before the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the current N.B.A. season, the Trail Blazers were in the midst of celebrating their 50th anniversary. As part of the festivities, the team had organized a series of “Decade Nights,” with dinners for invited guests.
Mr. Glickman attended them all, Mr. McGowan said, visiting with former players and colleagues and sharing stories about the old days.
Marshall Glickman, who spent several years as an executive with the Trail Blazers, said in an interview that he had visited his father about a week before he died and found him speaking on the phone with Clyde Drexler, one of many former players who had kept in close touch.
In addition to his son, Mr. Glickman is survived by his wife, Joanne (Matin) Glickman; his daughters, Jennifer Glickman-Hett and Lynn Glickman; and three grandchildren.
Last year, Mr. Glickman received the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.