The 93-year-old was was hired in 1970 by team founder Harry Glickman and served as play-by-play broadcaster for almost three decades. He served as an ambassador for the Trail Blazers starting in 2003 and retired in 2022.
The Trail Blazers confirmed the news in a press release Saturday afternoon, and said his wife Dottie Schonely was by his side when he passed. A public celebration of life is planned, the team said, with details to come later.
"The Schonz was a cornerstone of the organization since Day 1. He was the ultimate Trail Blazer – the voice of the Trail Blazers," Trail Blazers Alumni Ambassador Terry Porter said in a statement. "He was someone that Blazers fans grew up listening to for many, many generations. His voice will be missed, his presence will be missed, but his legacy will not be forgotten. It’s intertwined with every part of this organization."
At hire number six, Schonely was one of the organization's very first employees. He was tasked with quickly assembling a radio network to introduce Oregon to the Trail Blazers organization.
Serving as the team’s play-by-play voice for nearly 30 years, he called over 2,500 games including the team’s championship run in 1977 and other runs in the 1990s.
Schonely maintained a streak of calling games throughout his 30-year run that was only interrupted in 1982-83 when he stepped away to recover from heart bypass surgery.
Coining 'Rip City'
Schonely's catchphrase, which is now enshrined on one of the team's uniforms, was born during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Blazers were down by 20-plus points, but made a comeback.
He said that Jim Barnett, a former Oregon player who was one of the original Blazers, winked at him before taking a shot just steps inside the midcourt line.
"I was gonna say it 'Rip the twine' or something but I came up with 'Rip City! All right!' And look what happened," he said. "It took a little while for that phrase to catch on. I had no idea that all of this was going to happen. But it did, and wherever you go, it's humbling to me, but it's 'Rip City.'"
Prior to joining the Trail Blazers organization, Schonely served in the United States Marine Corps and worked at radio stations throughout the country.
In 1999, Schonely was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame for broadcasting and in 2012, he was awarded the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game as an outstanding broadcaster.
"We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Trail Blazers legendary broadcaster Bill Schonely," Dewayne Hankins, President of Business Operations for the Trail Blazers, said in a statement. "Our hearts go out to his wife, Dottie, and the entire Schonely family during this difficult time. Bill was a warm, engaging and sharp person – always up for a joke, a keen observation or a kind remark. His mark on the organization, the state of Oregon and all of sports broadcasting will be felt for generations. No one loved Rip City more than Bill did and we are all forever grateful for his contributions to the community."