In the history of the National Basketball Association, many players have come into the league via the draft or another avenue that have played for many years by the simple fact that they played with a tremendous amount of energy, enthusiasm and joy that it made practices fun and the games ones to remember. Those kinds of players are the glue that keeps the team together, especially in the rough times. That player is one that the fans enjoy seeing and embrace like no other because in some form, that fan sees a mirror image of themselves. The Portland Trail Blazers of the late 1980s into the middle of the 1990s had that player and he not only was the glue of their team, especially on two of their best teams in their history, he became a beloved figure not just in the organization, but the city. That beloved basketball player and human being passed away in the middle of this past week.
On Wednesday, Jerome Kersey, the starting small forward for the Portland Trail Blazers on their 1990 and 1992 NBA Finals teams passed away.
The 52-years-old Kersey leaves behind his wife Teri Donnerberg, who he married on Sept. 2, 2013. They have four children together, three daughters Kiara, McKenzie and Maddie, one son Brendan and granddaughter Harley. Kiara is Kersey’s daughter from a previous relationship and Donnerberg’s two other daughters and son are also from a previous relationship.
A call coming from Kersey’s home was made to the Lake Oswego Fire Department that they responded to a little after 5 p.m. He was taken to Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin, OR where he passed away.
Kersey had surgery on his knee just days prior. One day he left the Trail Blazers’ Rose Quarter office because he was not feeling well.
It was discovered by medical examiners of Legacy Meridian Park that Kersey’s death was linked to a blood clot which traveled up to his lungs, which caused a pulmonary embolism.
“Today we lost an incredible person and one of the most beloved players to ever where a Trail Blazers uniform,” Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen said in a statement on Thursday.
“My hearts and condolences are with the Kersey family. He will be missed by all of us. This is a terrible loss.
Kersey’s teammate for a decade with the Trail Blazers and an ambassador for the team All-Star guard Terry Porter said that Kersey was, “the best teammate you could ever have.”
“He would run through a wall for you. Got every ounce out of his talent that was humanly possible. The joy and the smile. The way he embraced life.”
Hall of Famer and NBA on TNT analyst Charles Barkley said on “Inside the NBA,” presented by KIA on Thursday said how whenever he visited Portland for Nike he would meet up with Kersey and catch up.
“I just cried. It hurt me. I feel so bad,” Barkley said on Thursday. “I don’t get emotional a lot, but I just cried. I felt so bad.”
Kersey’s basketball journey began at Longwood College, a NCAA Division II school at the time in Farmville, VA, where he set school records for points, rebounds, steals and blocks while connecting on 57 percent of the baskets he scored. He averaged 14.2 boards in his senior season, leading all Division II players.
In 2008, Kersey was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and was selected to receive the William Henry Ruffner Alumni Award for this year, the highest award given to an alum of Longwood.
Three years prior, Kersey was inducted into Longwood’s first Hall of Fame class, where he was joined by former Major League Baseball star Michael Tucker LPGA golfer Tina Barrett.
While he left school early to pursue his NBA dream, he did get his degree nine years later needing just two college courses to graduate.
Kersey was selected with the No. 46 overall pick by the Trail Blazers in the 1984 NBA Draft, which included the likes of Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton and Oscar Schmidt.
He went from being a regular contributor coming off the bench to eventually becoming significant starter at the small forward position alongside power forward Buck Williams, center the late Kevin Duckworth, Hall of Fame shooting guard Clyde Drexler and Porter at the lead guard spot.
From 1987-92, Kersey averaged 19.2, 17.5, 16.0, 14.8 and 12.6 points per game respectably along with rebound averages of 8.3 twice, 8.4, 6.6 and 8.2. In four of those five seasons, the Trail Blazers won over 50 games.
That starting quintet help lead the Trail Blazers to two NBA Finals in the next three seasons. They lost to the Detroit Pistons, also known as the “Bad Boys” in 1990 Finals 4-1 and then to Jordan, Scottie Pippen and then head coach Phil Jackson in the 1992 Finals 4-2.
One person who really admired those teams and the play of Kersey was current NBATV/NBA on TNT Insider David Aldridge, who covered those Blazer teams that made it to The Finals twice.
“Jerome Kersey may have been one of the five or six hardest playing guys I’ve ever seen. He played every possession literally like it was his last one,” Aldridge said on Thursday.
“He played with so much energy and purpose and fire. He was just a joy to watch. Out on the break either leading it or finishing it. It didn’t really matter, he could do both.”
By the 1994-95 season, the Trail Blazers had a stable of forwards including eventual All-Star Clifford Robinson, who eventually took the place of Kersey in the starting lineup.
He was left unprotected in the expansion draft the next season and was selected by the Toronto Raptors, but was waived before the season began and rejoined his former head coach Rick Adelman with the Golden State Warriors where he started 58 times. He averaged 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest.
The next year, he moved on to the Los Angeles Lakers signing as a free agent and because of injuries and trades got a lot of playing time and was very productive scoring 6.8 points and 5.2 boards in 70 games, 44 of them as a starter.
Former Lakers center and eventual four-NBA champion and current analyst for NBATV/NBA on TNT Shaquille O’Neal was a teammate of Kersey that season and he admired that even at his age of 34 at that time, he played all out each night. He was a true professional, who taught him a lot.
“For me, the things that got me to the next level wasn’t about practice, but about information. He [Kersey] would give me certain information that helped my game out. He’s definitely going to be missed. He was a great man and a great teammate,” O’Neal said on “Inside the NBA,” presented by KIA this past Thursday.
After an injury riddled season with the then Seattle Supersonics in 1997-98, Kersey spent two seasons with the San Antonio Spurs and was a part of their 1999 title team that defeated the New York Knicks 4-1 to earn the first of their five championships.
He spent his final season in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks, who made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and lost to 2001 MVP Allen Iverson, Coach of the Year that season Larry Brown and the Philadelphia 76ers.
When he retired, Kersey finished at top in many Trail Blazer career categories. He was second in games played and block shots, third in minutes played, steals and scoring, second in rebounding and sixth in assists.
Over the next few years, Kersey served as a coach in various roles for several NBA teams. For a while, he worked for Wells Fargo. Eleven years ago, the Trail Blazers hired Kersey to be their director of player programs.The next year, Kersey was hired as an assistant by the Bucks where he worked under his former teammate Porter, who was the head coach and worked alongside Mike Schuler, who coached both Kersey and Porter for two seasons in the late 1980s.
After being let go after the 2004-05 season, Kersey moved on to join the automotive industry as an auto wholesaler.
Earlier in the week, Kersey, Porter and former Trail Blazers’ forward/center Brian Grant made an appearance at James Madison High School in Portland, OR as ambassadors for the Trail Blazers in celebration of Black History Month.
There are a lot of players that are measured by how great their career was by their individual stats and how many titles did they win.
While Jerome Kersey career stats were not off the charts, 10.3 points, 5.9 rebounds for his career, his overall take no prisoners, leave it all out on the floor, love and cherish all around you was worth its weight in gold, which produced playoff appearances in all 11 seasons with the Trail Blazers and in 16 of his 17 years in the league overall.
It is something that his teammates, opponents both players and coaches, future Trail Blazers and fans appreciated at all times.“Just a fine young man and he made you feel when you met him that you were important and he made a city feel that way. You could argue that Jerome Kersey was Mr. Portland, OR,” former head coach with the Knicks, then Vancouver, now Memphis Grizzlies and current NBATV analyst Stu Jackson said on Thursday.
“What a competitor that he was. You always had to be so mindful of him because of his energy and then also coaching in Portland, I know from the fans in that city how much they loved this guy. He was always there. He was Mr. Portland Trail Blazer. Everybody should be so lucky to have people feel that way about them,” NBATV analyst and former Trail Blazers head coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr., who coached against Kersey and the Trail Blazers in the 1991 Western Conference Finals as the first year head coach of the Lakers, winning that series in six games.
In the world of professional sports today, it can be hard to find sometimes athletes who are or were amazing on the court as well as off the court. They had a way of engaging their teammates, the media and the fans in the same vacuum. Jerome Kersey was one of those rare athletes who did it during his career and after that. He made plays that impacted games and he was a person that impacted lives. He had a love for life and a respect for it to never take it for granted. Along the way he made life-long acquaintances who respected him for his game as well as his the way the Trail Blazers played and what he was away from the hardwood.
“He was a terrific guy. I really loved talking to those guys because they played with a lot of not just great energy, nut great passion and played like they really cared about the game and it showed,” Aldridge said.Information, quotes and statistics are courtesy of 2/19/15 1 a.m. edition of “Inside the NBA,” presented by KIA on TNT with Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley; 2/19/15 NBATV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla, Mike Dunleavy, Sr., David Aldridge and Stu Jackson; en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome_Kersey;
en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland_Trail_Blazers and en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stu_Jackson.