Reprint: Stories

Jans and Carl both made comments earlier about community and how nice it is and that, along with writing the mission post below, got me jogging down memory lane about the times when folks were talking Blazers commonly out on the street.  Furthering this nostalgic impulse was XarXar's comment that he is 19 and has just picked up the team, which means he's probably not experienced that ever.  I absolutely hate to play the old man card (because I'm not that old) but in honor of the former two and maybe for some perspective for the rest of us I wanted to re-print something I did last June on the old blog about what I remember of the old-school Blazer community.  Real old-timers from the Blazer Thoughts days will have already read these stories, so feel free to skip to the game day posts.  But for anyone who missed it the first time, these are some of the things I remember.  Maybe they'll illustrate what I'm talking about and why I think it's important.  Maybe we'll get there again someday?

 

I remember when I was a kid, just out of high school. (I graduated early, so I was a little younger than normal.) I got a couple of odd jobs and most days I would pass a sporting goods store downtown. I forget the name right now but I remember the clerk working there at the time was really cute. One day I finally got the courage to walk into the store and, you know, talk to the clerk. I never made any headway with her (older woman as it turns out) but I did see something else that caught my eye. Right there in the center of the store they had a rack of Blazer starter jackets. They were the shiny, black nylon ones with red and white trim at the cuffs and collar. They had old school, lower case letters (this was before the caps and the slant) spelling out "blazers". Sewn by the right front pocket was an official NBA logo. And that's it...simple and oh so cool. They were $45 each. I saved up money for a few weeks and then bought two, one for me and one for my younger sister. You've never seen a prouder strut than mine walking out of that store.

Needless to say, I wore that thing everywhere. It literally had to top 90 before I'd take it off. And you know what? It was a conversation starter. I didn't have a car so I rode on Tri-Met. People would get on the bus, sit down, and just start talking. Old people, young people, guys, girls (I liked that part)...just anyone. You never knew when it was going to start. Wasn't it great how the team was doing? Who do you think is the biggest challenge in the West? Do we really have a chance to win it all? And, of course, what the heck is wrong with Jake O'Donnell? I remember being downtown at a bus stop in the winter. Huddled inside were an old man with a cane, a middle-aged businessman with wrinkles (smoking to stave off the cold), an African-American woman, a college guy, and me. The old man saw my coat and asked if I was part of the team. (Oh, what joy that would be!) I said no, but I liked them a lot. He said they would always turn them on at the place he stayed (some kind of nursing home from what I could gather). Then the businessman started talking about the game in Utah that night. And the college kid joined in, and the woman too. It didn't matter who we were. It didn't matter where we were going. We were just Portlanders talking about the Blazers. What else did you need to know?

Another incident that sticks out in my mind happened when I was riding the 72 down 82nd Avenue, where I used to live. I got on the bus, sat about six rows from the back, and started reading my book, which was the usual way I passed the time. I didn't pay much attention to my surroundings but I did hear a conversation coming from the very back seat. Two guys were sitting there, both probably in their early 20's, and they looked pretty tough. This was during the height of the whole Crips/Bloods thing in Portland. I heard one of them say, "We need to teach him a lesson what it means to wear colors on the bus." That caught my attention, so I looked around the bus to see if I could see a headband or anything like that to indicate who they were talking about. There were only about seven people on the bus besides me and them and none of them looked even remotely gang-attired. That's when I realized that my jacket was red and black. And that's when I started listening to that conversation very intently. I couldn't hear the first guy, the one making threats, very well. But I could hear his friend. His friend said, "Come on, man! It's just a kid supporting his team. Everybody around here loves them. Your little brother loves them. That could be your little brother, man. You can't take a guy down for wearing that around here." The conversation continued for a while, but I guess the friend won out because eventually the two got off before I did. On the way out the door the friend caught my eye and nodded. I nodded back (somewhat timidly). I've often thought of that guy. I don't know whether he saved me from something simple like getting my jacket stolen and getting a beating or something far worse. But when I've thought of him I've hoped that his life turned out OK.

Anyway, the point is, had my red and black jacket said anything but "blazers" on the front, I'm not sure I would have made it three steps past the door of the bus in one piece. But once upon a time, in some weird way, that word meant something to people that was bigger than any of us.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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