2007 was a transitional year for me. I had just graduated from Portland State the previous summer and was trying to turn 3 part time gigs into 1 full time job. Looking back on that year, I can remember a lot of good times shared with a lot of good friends, but one day in particular will always stand out because of what it meant to me as a Trail Blazers fan. At the time, I was living in a house in southwest Portland shared by 5 friends of mine. Most of us had already graduated from college and although each of us certainly could have lived on our own, I guess no one was in a hurry to move out because we enjoyed each other’s company so much.
There was Rob, who was probably the smartest guy in the house. We went to high school together but I really didn’t get to know him until after I came back from my 4 years in the Army and he had already graduated from the University of Oregon. See, we were different kinds of nerds back in high school. Rob was more the book worm type and I was more of the socially inept sort. In school our paths never crossed, but when they finally did we became good friends. At this particular time, Rob had just dropped out of grad school at PSU and was working for Frito Lay, stocking grocery store shelves with hundreds of bags of potato chips every day…like I said, the smartest guy in the house.
Stefan worked as a banker and was best known for his chain smoking and German ancestry (although for some reason he would hide his smoking habit from every girl he brought back to the house. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but he pulled it off every time). When the house would go out to play a game of pick up basketball I would always want to have Stefan on my team because despite his pack-a-day addiction to American Spirit cigarettes, he earned the name “crazy legs” for notoriously running around the court for what seemed like the entire game, eventually wearing down whomever was guarding him and making it easier for the team he played for. Stefan also went by the names “Kraut” and “the Myspace pimp.”
Mike was another guy I went to high school with but didn’t know that well before we moved in together. I believe it was around this time that he changed his name to Reed (which was his middle name). His rationale was that the name “Mike” was too generic and he preferred to go by a more distinctive name. This irritated me to no end, and I honestly don’t know why. Needless to say, whenever there was a dispute I would “accidently” refer to him as Mike. Reed (Mike) went from president of his U of O fraternity, to managing an Abercrombie and Fitch, to becoming a real estate agent. He eventually bought the house we were living in and planned on “flipping it.” I still blame him for the economic crisis we’re in today.
I’m not really sure what Bill did exactly, but I know he wore a hard hat and a reflective vest and he left for work at an ungodly hour in the morning each day. Bill was a man’s man who always seemed to have everything under control. He spoke slowly but deliberately, and acted as if nothing could ever rattle him—and to my knowledge nothing ever did. In a house full of guys who would get into fights over whether Jennifer Garner is hot (she’s not), Bill was sort of the “cooler.”
Justin was and still is my best friend. He and I were without a doubt the biggest blazer fans in the house which was very important, especially when control of the television was in dispute. We’ve known each other since the 6th grade and although we always followed the home team, our Blazer fandom didn’t truly blossom until we went our separate ways between high school and college. Once we hooked back up, I guess we kind of fed off of each other’s infatuation with the team and it wasn’t long before we became fully fledged blazermaniacs together. Needless to say, as the 2007 NBA season ended and the Draft Lottery approached, we waited with cautious optimism.
The Blazers only won 32 games the previous season but for the first time since I’ve followed the team, I not only felt connected to each and every player; I truly felt we were on the cusp of greatness. I was too young to fully appreciate the championship runs of the early 90's and although I was excited during the run in 2000, I wasn’t emotionally invested in the players like I am now. Back then I cared more about the bottom line which was beating the Lakers, and winning a championship. In that order. All the other years seemed marred by first round exits, failed experiments and wasted energy.
But now Brandon Roy was looking like the steal of last year’s draft, Aldridge looked promising; Martell Webster was going to turn into Ray Allen and Jarrett Jack into Chauncy Billups. I thought Travis Outlaw was one killer instinct away from being an all star and when you add in a lottery pick from what was supposed to be one of the deepest drafts of all time, you get a to start whispering the word “championship,” which hadn’t been used in the same sentence as the words “Trail Blazers” in a long time. Unless you count the headline: “Trail Blazer Rasheed Wallace wins the douchebag championship again!”
Now obviously I knew the team wasn’t going to be an immediate contender as constructed at the time. Juan Dixon probably wouldn’t be long for the team and I was openly anti-Zach Randolph. I also knew that after being royally screwed over in the previous year’s draft lottery (we ended up with the 4th pick instead of the number 1) I shouldn’t get my hopes up about anything special happening on this day. We finished tied for the 6th worst record in the league with Minnesota and had something like a 5% chance of winning the number 1 pick, which in this year’s draft happened to be a once-a-decade center named Greg Oden. Even Adam Silver who presided over the event as the deputy commissioner opened the presentation by saying “good luck to all, the stakes are pretty high tonight.”
Something to keep in mind as you read this; this is before there were any questions about Greg’s health let alone the slightest murmur of the term “micro-fracture.” This was before the so called dispute over whether Kevin Durant deserved to be the number 1 pick (although to be sure, getting a shot at drafting Kevin Durant seemed nearly as exciting from our vantage point). At the time, Greg Oden was the baddest man on the planet and had just finished a superhuman performance during the championship game against Florida where he outplayed 3 front court lottery picks…at the same time…with one hand. There was no question who the number 1 pick was going to be in the 2007 NBA Draft: Greg Oden.
When you live in a big house full of guys, a big screen TV, a fridge that is perpetually filled with beer, and a never ending supply of Frito Lay potato chips (thanks to Rob), you don’t really need to go to a sports bar to enjoy an event like this and May 22, 2007 was no different. I believe everyone was there except for Bill, who was probably out forging steel, and Mike errrr Reed who usually got in later in the day. Justin had his laptop out and was reading aloud the latest trade rumors and scouting reports. Stefan had his laptop out as well but I just assumed he was on Myspace.com. I can remember being really interested in Corey Brewer, intrigued by Yi Jianlian, irritated by Joakim Noah (it was, and still is, his hair as much as his game) and amazed that Mike Conley jr. was even in the lottery to begin with. Keep in mind, these are the players I felt we would have a shot at drafting given our projected lottery position.
The NBA does a great job of making their entire draft lottery presentation an entertaining event, but to us, the first 7 selections seemed like a blur. We all knew we would find out if we had a shot at a top 3 pick once the team who chooses 6th was revealed. So it all came down to this moment:
The 7th pick will be made by...The Minnesota Timberwolves (the TV analyst quickly adds “The Minnesota Timberwolves saying that Kevin Garnett will NOT be traded; where will help come from?”
*Rustling of the envelope*
The 6th pick belongs to...The Milwaukie Bu...
Justin and I spontaneously took off our shirts and began to twirl them around over our heads like we were Pittsburgh Steeler Fans waving terrible towels. Rob almost choked on a mouthful of Cheetos as expletives and cheese powder simoultaneously spewed out of his mouth. I then began to rock back and forth repeating the words “oh my god, oh my god” over and over again, almost in disbelief about what had just transpired. Now I’d like to say I did that all the way to commercial break but when the next selection revealed that the Boston Celtics who had tanked their season for 3/4 of the year just to jockey for position to draft Greg Oden got stuck with the 5th pick, I threw in a Tiger Woods fist pump for good measure and started a cycle of high fives that went around the room at least 4 times. Even Stefan had finally logged off of Myspace and joined in on the wild celebration.
ESPN cut to commercial after Memphis and a very angry looking Jerry West received the 4th pick.
At some point during the countdown, Reed got home and was quickly brought up to speed. Okay dude, there are 3 picks left. It’s down to us, Seattle, and Atlanta. The number 3 pick gets you jack squat (Al Horford had suddenly been relegated to “jack squat status”) but if we can pull off a miracle here and somehow land in the top 2 we are guaranteed a future all star. Maybe even...dare I say it...a Hall of Famer (It’s kind of scary looking back at how high expectations were. It wasn’t t that long ago). ESPN returns with a scene from a draft lottery party in Boston, MA. It immediately cuts to a guy with a green Celtics hat on backward and his hands atop his head with his mouth agape. It wasn’t a freeze frame, he literally held that position for 5 solid seconds of air time. I threw in another Tiger fist pump.
The 3rd pick in the 2007 NBA draft will be made by...The Atlant...
Then, without much of a dramatic pause, Adam Silver immediately reaches for the next envelope before our shouts have a chance to die down...The 2nd pick in this year’s draft will go to...The Seattle Super Sonics…and that means…
Heres the thing. I could cut and paste the whole AAGGHH line again but I feel like that wouldn’t do the moment justice. I could type out 3 pages of A’s, G’s, and H’s and it wouldn’t begin to describe the sound that bellowed out from depths of my soul. When that now defunct Super Sonics emblem came out of that 2nd place envelope, I unleashed a guttural cry akin to Wesley’s screams from the movie The Princess Bride while he was being tortured in the pit of despair. Reed was bouncing up and down once he figured out what had happened, and after giving Justin an extremely awkward bare chested hug, I bummed a cigarette from Stefan, went outside and immediately starting calling people. Someone, anyone, I had to get the news out. I called my mom, like my mother knew who Greg Oden was? I called my girlfriend who tried to act like she cared, I called Bill who sounded like he had work to do; I went back inside and tried to make sense of what had just occurred. We were going to draft Greg Oden, and we were going to win.
There are undoubtedly greater moments in blazer history than May 22, 2007. And even I would admit that in a way, celebrating a draft lottery could be viewed as pathetic, especially when you figure that your team had to finish at the bottom of the standings in order to be in it. If I was alive in 1977, I have no doubt what my fondest memory would be (notice I didn’t say fondest Blazer memory). But I wasn’t, and although the victories between then and now have been entertaining and a hell of a ride, it certainly leaves one wanting more. Winning the lottery that year felt like a sign of good things to come. I just hope one day I can look back at this moment and remember everything just like it was, but with the knowledge that this was the event that changed everything for us, even if it took a while to realize it.