Sometimes in the life of a fan, there comes a moment when one's devotion to a team must move beyond the simple accounting of wins and losses. We become faced with the recognition of a higher calling, as it were. Those who heed this calling will then embark on an almost spiritual quest that we are compelled to undertake in order to help the team achieve the everpresent dream of perfection.
This is the story of one such moment.
Inspired by timbo's suggestion, I had determined to embrace the noble, albeit quixotic, vision of leading a packed Rose Garden into the first ever chant of "Fire Isiah" at an arena outside of New York.
It would be the perfect setup. With ESPN on hand to broadcast the game to a national audience, the chant would undoubtedly spark similar outbursts at other arenas throughout the Association. Before long, it would grow into such a vociferous national phenomenon, that even the leaden-headed owner of the Knicks, James Dolan, would no longer be able to shrug off the continuing embarrassment that is the Isiah Thomas regime.
There was, however, one slight impediment.
I didn't have tickets to the game.
In years past, whenever the New Yorkers rolled into town, I simply sauntered up to the gate 15 minutes or so before tipoff and scored ducats, real easy-like. But it wasn't until about a week or so ago that I began to seriously consider the possibility that "Z-Bo Returns" might actually be a more boffo box office draw than the new Rambo flick or the Knick appearances of years past. Panicked, I phoned a Blazerfan buddy of mine who was headed out to last Sunday's Hawk game. I begged him to please, please, please score some ingress to the Knick game while he was there. That night, he phoned to report that the box office folk had basically told him "No room at the inn dere, boy-o" in reply to his inquiries about the Knick contest. But not to worry, saith good friend. There was this guy at work, who knew a guy, who knew a guy who works for the Blazers. My friend would ask to see what could be done. On Monday, Blazerfan buddy called back and said "the guy" had indeed come through. There'd be three tickets waiting for my friend, myself and another Blazerfan chum at Will Call, vouchsafed to us with the understanding that the seats were "pretty high up there."
Ingress secured, next comes "the plan." My buddies and I had agreed to meet at Rock Bottom Brewery at 2nd and Morrison downtown after work. There I reveal my vision and make the pitch to enlist them in my efforts. Their initial skepticism is slowly dissolved by the persuasive powers of Rock Bottom's fine Gambrinian product. By the time we leave the pub, at minutes after 7:00 pm, they are more than willing converts to the cause. Confident now of the imminent success of my intrigues, we head over to the Max station at 2nd and Yamhill to await transport to the arena.
A large crowd is already gathered at the stop. We fall in next to some guys in Blazer gear who are engaged in a rather spirited critique of the managerial deficiencies of the current occupant of the White House. Sensing an opportunity to recruit even more converts to the cause, I wait for my opening and then chime in:
"Yeah. George Bush is kinda like the Isiah Thomas of world leaders. Everything he touches turns to Shiite."
Now: Time to make my case to these prospective recru-
"Good God, what was that?" I hear being exclaimed at various points throughout the crowd, which is now gravitating amoeba-like toward the source of the ground-shaking noise.
"Holy Christ! The Max train just hit a bus!" I hear someone yell and - yes - there it is, the Mighty Max, derailed, as seen wit' me own eyes. Confused, looking around now, nobody really sure what to do, I glance at my watch - 10 minutes past 7 - and then it hits me: how are we going to get to the game? All of my beautiful plans, suddenly in jeopardy.
A steely determination takes hold and sends me walking in the direction of -- the Steel Bridge. "Where you going?" yelp my buddies. But I've already got a full head of steam, along with many of the other Blazer faithful who are also filing away from the Yamhill stop. Before long, we reach the stop at 1st and Oak, crowded with Blazer hats and jackets waiting for a train that will never come. "Better start walking," someone from our group says, "The Max just hit a bus." Momentary confusion before several more peel off and join what is now a full-fledged pilgrimage. More join in at the Skidmore Fountain and Old Town stations until it is now something akin to a small army that approaches the Steel Bridge.
Then it hits me: What better time to begin my crusade but now, while at the head of a march whose cadence would make the perfect accompaniment to a chant of "FI-YER I-SAY-YAH, FI-YER I-SAY-YAH." And so I begin. I am soon joined by my two friends in throaty enthusiasm. We've not yet reached full throttle when a kindly-faced, white haired gent looks at us quizzically and says:
"Isaiah Rider? But he's not with the team anymore!"
Hmmmm, this could prove more challenging than I thought. But after a brief pause, the three of us are at it again, and are even joined by one or two amused marchers nearby. We begin climbing the ramp to the Steel Bridge: "FI-YER I-SAY-YAH! FI-YER I-SAY-YAH!" A voice behind me is heard to remark: "This is so cool; all these people - the chanting - reminds me of the day I marched across this bridge to protest the Iraq War." I feel like I'm at the vanguard of a similarly righteous cause: "FI-YER I-SAY-YAH! FI-YER I-SAY-YAH!"
We reach the Rose Garden and find our way to the Will Call window. We pick up our ducats and finally pass through the turnstiles with the game already underway. We enter the building, only to be greeted by a cascade of Boos. We're briefly disoriented by this discordant opening note until we hear Mark Mason intone "Zach Randolph." We ascend the escalator to the 300 level. Emerging into the din of the arena, I'm thinking that hey - this here vantage point's not so bad as all that. I glance at my ticket stub: Row R. I look over at the nearest seat: Row F. We're climbing now... row K... L... M... and climbing some more... row P... Q... and then... we can't go anymore. We're at the uppermost row of seats in the Rose Garden, behind one of the baskets.
For the first time I glance down at the action on the floor. It was like watching a game of Parcheesi while looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars; the giant statures of NBA participants writ small. Very, very small. But I was undaunted. For tonight was not just about the game, but about something larger; something much more important. In fact, I was now ideally positioned to - as timbo had suggested - "rock the rafters" with my chant being that I was, well, actually sitting in the rafters.
So, at the earliest moment at which the crowd noise and the canned Rose Garden foofaraw subsides to a reasonable level, my friends and I begin:
"FI-YER I-SAY-YAH! FI-YER I-SAY-YAH!"
A few quizzical looks shoot our way, but - alas - no one else is inspired to take up the chant. One of my buddies consolingly tells me that Blazer fans are notoriously uncaring when it comes to teams other than their own: "They couldn't even appreciate the greatness of Michael Jordan because he wore the wrong red and black uniform." Grimly, I press on: "FI-YER I-SAY-YAH! FI-YER I-SAY-YAH!"
But wait: something's happening down on the floor. The Knicks have opened up an eight point lead. McMillan is forced to spend a timeout. The noise of the crowd has been reduced to a nervous mumur. I seize the moment: "FI-YER I-SAY-YAH! FI-YER I-SAY-YAH!"
"Uh, dude," a man seated in front of me says, "Your team is winning. No one's getting fired. At least not right now." Clearly, the sympathies of the crowd are not with me at this time. I lapse into silence and begin taking stock of the matchbox figures on the court. My boy, David Lee is an absolute beast; seemingly appearing out of nowhere to wrest any missed shot away from any Blazer in its immediate vicinity. Nate "Stephon Who?" Robinson is doing a nice job running the point, and is actually outplaying his former Husky teammate and current All-Star darling, Brandon Roy. Much of Roy's frustration is due to Renaldo Balkman's harassing and disruptive defense. And Zach? Well Zach is being Zach: frustrating Portlanders on the court and in the stands with his dazzling repertoire of post moves and improbable jumpers. New York by 11 at the half: My God... the Knicks could actually win this game!
In the second half, New York stretches its lead to 15 before the Blazers begin their run. Steve Blake starts heating up, Brandon finally awakes. As things begin to slip away for my boys, my sense of purpose returns: "FI-YER I-SAY-YAH! FI-YER I-SAY-YAH!" I'm doubling my efforts now, yelling even louder than before. My two friends half-heartedly join in, their nervousness over a possible Blazers loss preventing them from much enthusiasm for my mission. But I don't need `em; I'm cooking on all burners now: "FI-YER I-SAY-YAH! FI-YER I-SAY-YAH!" The Knicks call time-out and a young man approaches from below, can't be more than 15 or 16 years old, reaches out to shake my hand "Just want you to know that I don't like Isiah either," says he. "Well, help me out, bro," I implore. "FI-YER I-SAY-YAH! FI-YER I-SAY-YAH!"
With about three minutes left in the fourth; Knicks up by five. As the tension of the game takes hold, I once again forget the real reason I have come tonight. I feel my throat tighten. Jarrett Jack is once again confounding his legion of haters by taking it to the hole with authority. Less than a minute in regulation, Knicks up by two, Blazer ball. Roy hoists up an easy jumper that misses badly. My role as righteous crusader is now gone, replaced by that of the obnoxious visiting fan.
"Where's your All Star now, Portland? Huh? Huh? All Star? Yeah; Wotta joke!! HAAAA!"
But on the ensuing possession, the Knicks fail to make it a two score lead and Portland gets the ball back with 17 seconds. Coming out of the timeout, I'm laughing, taunting & mocking the fans in my section, most of whom are apparently dubious of the prospect of another last minute miracle by their team. When Travis gets the ball just inside the three point line and fades back for what looks to be an awkward shot, I smile, knowing that the magic has finally deserted the Bla-
The roar hits me like a punch in the gut. I slump into my seat, stunned. All around me people are standing, high-fiving, exultant. I slump even lower in my seat and then - I hear it:
"FI-YER I-SAY-YAH! FI-YER I-SAY-YAH! "FI-YER I-SAY-YAH! FI-YER I-SAY-YAH!"
I look up. It's pretty much everyone in the section. They're chanting it. Without me. They're mocking me, of course, but I realize that it also represents a triumph of sorts. So what else could I do?
I stood up and I joined them.