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Happy birthday

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW - Lloyd Neal, former Trail Blazers star, looks at a photo of himself on a plaque commemorating his efforts with the 1976-77 NBA championship team.Dec. 10, 1950

Lloyd Neal

(age 63)

One of the Trail Blazers' most popular and best forwards was born on this day in Talbotton, Ga.

The 6-7, 225-pound Neal played both forward and center for the Blazers from 1972-79, often battling much bigger and potent stars of the day, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Nate Thurmond, Bob Lanier and Walt Bellamy.

Neal was a key member of the Blazers' 1976-77 NBA championship team.

The third-round draft pick (No. 31 overall) out of Tennessee State won fans with his hustle and ability to battle around the basket — and for coping with injuries that eventually led to knee problems and a shortened playing career.

Neal made the all-NBA rookie team in 1972-73, as runner-up to Bob McAdoo for rookie of the year.

Neal, Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas were frontcourt standouts for those Blazer teams, and Neal finished his career with 11.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in 435 outings.

In 1979, the Blazers retired his No. 36 jersey.