My Blazers fandom reached it's zenith last night.
An old favor was called in and our crew got in to see shoot-around. The first player out there, and by far the hardest worker on the team, was Armon Johnson. Bayno had the pads out, and those two were going at it. Bayno doesn't give an inch, but the little he gave AJ was enough. Armon was working on two things: jab-step jumper, and driving...to the right! That right hand is developing well, but still looks a little forced (Bayno was yelling for a foul). From what I saw, AJ is still in the running for PGotF. Next on the floor was Batum.
The kid in me wanted to call my favorite Blazer over for an autograph, but looking close I could see that there was a lot on his mind. I'm sure he had KD's scouting report racing through his head, determined not to get torched and needing to prove himself worthy of his old starting spot (I didn't know he was coming off the bench until intros, but it was obvious something was getting under his skin). He wasn't hitting his 3s, but the elbow jumper was automatic (he buried a couple in the game). After Nico, Roy hit the court.
As diminished as Roy is these days, when he took the floor my heart stopped. Time slowed, staggered, and fell. He was walking towards us. One of my comrades had called him over to sign a basketball. I tried to think of something to say but I had stars in my eyes, so I let my dazed grin to the talking. Know this floks: Brandon Roy is as humble, classy, and genuine as he appears on TV. There's nothing fake about him; I couldn't write a better hero. Seeing him face to face was so thrilling that I hardly noticed when Terry Freaking Porter came walking up to our crew.
My friend Mel, who had organized the whole event, came with a sign that read, "Put Terry In!". They wanted to get it on TV, so Terry came striding over, shook everybody's hand, and got the shot. It was like the life-sized poster from my childhood jumped off the wall, stepped into a suit, and looked me in the eye. I somehow felt as though I'd come full circle, back to the beginning of my lifelong fandom--the years between had never happened. I was a kid again. The rest of shoot-around is a blur: Rudy and Patty clowning around, LMA knocking down jumpers, and the security guards kindly ushering us out of the front row and back to the Heritage Suite.
We took the elevator to the suite, and when the doors hissed open I saw a cheese-eating grin that I know all to well--Mike Rice, in the flesh. All twelve of us tried to pile in the elevator, unaware that it was going the wrong direction. Rice was cornered, but remained unflappable. After a moment of confusion, we filed out of the elevator, but Rice held fast in the corner. I saw my moment and struck. Stabbing my hand at him, I met those glassy eyes, and said, "You're great!". He took my outstretched hand in his (Rice has pretty big mitts), gave it a pump, and said, "Thanks!". Color blurred, I turned away, and Mike Rice floated down into the bowels of the Rose Garden.
Finding our suite, we tucked into the snacks like starved refugees. I felt like Lazarus, freshly back among the living, enjoying the first chicken wrap since his chat with St. Peter. Then came the game, and we know how that went. All I'll say about that is that I'm so proud of this team and it's coaches (but I'd have started Batum over Matthews!). The fourth quarter was as gripping as any I've seen. At about 6 minutes to go, the door to our suite opened, and Bill Shonely walked through it with 4 Blazers Alumni in tow.
I'll be honest, I don't know the era before my time. I was born in 1983, and haven't yet seen any documentaries about the Golden Age. To my shame, I didn't recognize any of the players (my dad told me one of them was Bobby Gross). I sure did recognize The Shonz though. Taking that delicate, ancient palm in mine, I sensed the history of hundreds of games--victories and defeats, heartbreak, heartmake, and heartfakeituntilyoumakeit. I told Bill Shonely it was an honor to meet him, and it truly was.
Bingo-bango-bongo. I didn't sleep a wink.