When Steve Patterson relocated from Houston to Portland this summer, he got an unexpected break: three months of unremitting sunshine. In his new job as president of the team known as the Jail Blazers, however, Patterson faced a cloudier picture. He had barely gotten his business cards from the printer when point guard Damon Stoudamire was arrested for marijuana possession after allegedly trying to smuggle a stash of pot wrapped in tinfoil through an airport metal detector. (A judge has yet to rule on whether the search was constitutional.) Patterson responded with immediate force, fining him a whopping $250,000 and saying that Stoudamire's trade value was so minimal that he couldn't be traded "for a chair."
A respected sports executive who oversaw the Rockets' mini-dynasty a decade ago and, more recently, helped engineer the successful launch of the NFL's Houston Texans, Patterson, 45, was hired by the Blazers with a clear (if not explicitly stated) job description: Clean up the mess left by his predecessor, Bob Whitsitt, whose talented players outdid one another at getting into trouble. Though Stoudamire's fine was later rescinded—he'll now submit to drug testing and give $100,000 to a Portland charity—Patterson conveyed a strong message to the team and, more important, to a community of disenchanted fans. As he puts it, "There has been a dramatic philosophical change."
Patterson has even promulgated a 25-point "mission statement" that included a pledge to sign players with character as well as talent. The Blazers may or may not sustain their redoubtable 21-year streak of making the playoffs, but as long as the franchise regains the community's affection and the players steer clear of the law, Patterson will consider it progress.