PORTLAND, Ore. — Rip City is saying goodbye to a fixture at Blazer games. The man known as Free Throw Guy has announced he's moving away from Portland.
Rob Ems has a lifetime of memories printed on 400 Hanes t-shirts.
"I took the Michael Jackson 'This Is It' idea and took a picture of Kobe..." said Rob Ems as he thumbs through two garment bags of shirts he brought to Blazer Bar Spirit of '77 where he sat down with KGW.
He holds up another one showing the floating head of Lebron James crying in front of a Christmas tree, "That was Lebron when he was going bald. There's some Rogaine and he's complaining because he's losing the hair," Ems laughs of his special design.
Free Throw Guy is a love it or hate it bit. There's the flailing around, and the constant razzing. But Ems had a serious strategy to get those opposing players to miss.
"I could see the shooters generally in their free throw form, they would lock onto the floor below the hoop and as they were going into their motion, their eye would go from the floor to the rim. In that motion, their eye is moving vertically,” he said. “So, what I would do, is get in that motion of them moving their eye, to try and draw their eye to my hands before they could get to the rim. If I could get them to just look at me in that moment, they would tend to miss."
Early on in 2018, it was the well-recognized local mattress store owner, Sherri Hiner, who Ems credits for his alter ego.
"She was like wait, I know you! And I was like no, I know you, you're on Portland tv everywhere! And she said, no you're that Free Throw Guy! And I said, 'I get to keep that'. Because you can't give yourself a moniker, it has to be bestowed on you," laughed Ems.
Ems was Free Throw Guy for eight years. He even had a streak of attending 400 home games. His mom made his first shirt.
"It was a gag gift for Christmas from my mother in 2008. I opened it up on Christmas and it was the first Free throw Guy shirt and she made it with iron-on letters from Jo-Ann Fabrics. She's like 'you should wear that to the game tonight, just do it, have fun tonight,’” Ems said. “So, we played Denver that night, and I wore the shirt and from that night on in 2008 through the end of the 2016 season, I was at every game and had a new shirt for every night."
By day, Rob Ems is an elected water commissioner in Raleigh Hills if you can believe it. His term will be up at the end of this month. By night, he's a producer, announcer and warm-up guy for live, comedy talk show "Who's the Ross?" that is moving from filming in Portland, down to L.A., with a chance at a cable tv deal. Ems retired Free Throw Guy in 2016.
"No one wants to see a 40-year-old man jumping around like that. Like 24? Sure. But 40? No. Even I don't want to see that," he said.
But he'll always be a Blazers fan, even in La La Land.
"It warms my heart so much that something I did that's just this crazy, chaotic bit, found a good place in people's hearts," Ems said.
Ems says late Blazers owner Paul Allen, was a supporter of Free Throw Guy, when some other management wasn't.
Sitting five rows down courtside, Mr. Allen would throw a thumbs-up Rob's way, when key shots by the opposing teams were missed. Rob admits, he even snuck a second red rose on Mr. Allen's seat for the tribute game after he passed away.