Sometimes the solutions to problems are right before us, but we cannot seem to recognize them. In my opinion, this is the case when we talk about what’s wrong with the Trailblazer organization. In a recent interview, Blazers COO, Sarah Mensah, refers to, "…a drop in attendance which we attribute to the product on the floor. " Sarah’s words reveal a mindset that has, I believe, caused the turmoil and disarray in our favorite team.
Calling the Portland Trailblazers a "product" may seem to be cool, current, hip, or sophisticated, given that so much of the NBA has become such a money-driven sideshow. Nonetheless, to the many thousands of Oregonians (and others) who have followed and supported the team for so many years, calling the Blazers a "product" is degrading. Let me say why.
I started paying close attention to the Blazers in 1974, and I listened to or watched every game I had access to, all the way through the championship year to the late 1990s. In the 2000s, my interest began to wane right about the same time Rasheed Wallace was throwing a towel into Arvydas Sabonis’s face and Bonzi Wells was flipping off the crowd at the arena. When Stoudamire’s attic was found to be stuffed with weed, I laughed, but it cut deep to know that he cared so little for the incredible opportunity that had been given him. When Zach was busted for having a gun in his car, the bloom went off the rose for me. It was about that time that I started to notice that people had started paying less attention to the game and more attention to the money, the politics, and the sick underside of the ways athletes were cultivated, coddled, and excused for seemingly any behavior.
Maybe I was naïve (maybe I am still naïve), but I prefer naivete to the kind of sad and worn cynicism that calls city’s best-loved group of human beings a "product." To me, Liquid Plumr is a product. Ivory Soap is a product. Windex is a product . The Portland Trailblazers, on the other hand, are a place where young people’s dreams are acted out against rivals from all over the world. The Blazers are the best example of what can happen when an entire city believes in something and somebody . The Blazers are the creators of memories; they are young people who remind us of what excellence can mean, and they are stand-ins for each of us frustrated workers who has to punch a time clock, face a crummy boss, and live every day with the thought that our lives will never include being able to get out on the break and slam dunk a winning basket at the buzzer.
So, Ms. Mensah (and all you Blazer management folks who must spend a lot of time congratulating yourselves on your marketing genius), I encourage you not to simply change your buzzwords to placate fans like me; instead, I urge you to examine why your own life is so devoid of imagination and aspiration that you can refer to the Portland Trailblazers as a "product.’ What happened to you to make you so cold? Why do the men and women who work for Paul Allen behave as if they’re selling manure?
The Portland Trailblazers belong to the city of Portland, Oregon, not to Paul Allen, not to ad agencies, not to media outlets. The Blazers belong to us, and we belong to them. Unless you get that clear, you will never understand anything about the team you supposedly represent.