I can’t claim as part of my fandom a majority of this franchise’s lore. I can’t revel in the glory of the ’77 championship nor can I wax poetic about the run-and-gun style of Drexler’s Pistons. And, much like a child too young to comprehend the gravity of the death of a grandparent, while I cried after the 2000 game 7 collapse (and the face Shaq made post-alleyoop served as my boogeyman for the next year), its effects were mild and short-lived (and yes I just compared a playoff loss with the death of a Grandparent, yikes). Despite this, I grew up infatuated with the Blazers. I would play along with every game on my Nerf hoop, meticulously modeling my turnaround jumper after the great Isaiah (JR) Rider, my unblockable high-release J after Sheed, my 3-point shot after Damon and my defensive intensity after Ruben Patterson. While I look back on this and think that I was having with myself my own little prison pick-up game, the fact of the matter was that they were who I knew, so they were who I loved. It went like this through middle and high school; as the Blazers and I both sifted through revolving friends, looks and rivals, the only constant was that we were Portlanders and therefore we were connected. Then I went ahead and chose a college 3000 miles away and threw it all into question.
The adage goes something like: “distance makes the heart grow fonder.” Yet the sentiment here is usually lost on me. When things drift from the forefront in my life I too often move on to the next adventure with utter disregard for memories out of reach. When I moved from Portland to the East Coast as a college freshman 4 years ago, I was afraid the same thing would happen with my childhood love affair with the Blazers. That I would outgrow the boys in black, white and red like Andy outgrew Woody, Buzz and the gang in Toy Story 3. Now that I’m back home, a newly-minted and jobless college graduate, I can tell you that that’s not exactly how it happened.
I still remember the bruises from the morning after. Both of my hands were tarnished black and blue, swollen far beyond their allotted space and taking on a heartbeat of their own. It was my freshman year. The night before, like so many college nights, I had been both wide awake when I should have been fast asleep and recreating when I should have been studying. Unlike the norm though, I was not recreating by downing ungodly amounts of alcohol or…well, doing other ungodly things. No, I was pacing in front of a television, alone, feeling the exhilarating buzz of a crowd a Country’s distance away.
Any Blazer fan knows this game. The shot heard ‘round Rip City. When Brandon Roy hit that 30 footer to beat the Rockets it was well past 1oclock in the morning where I was. Yet as the high-arching masterpiece traveled through the air and then oh so softly dropped through the net, time stood still. And then, hell broke loose. I let out carnal screams. I jumped. I clapped feverishly, violently, and banged my soon-to-be-battered hands on walls, tables and chairs. Hoarse, bruised, out of breath and recently admonished by the residential coordinator, I sat on the ground, buried my head into my hands and let it all soak in. I let the Rose Garden streamers fall around me. There’s no place like home. To this day, I don’t know what I soak in during those greatest moments of triumph or, for that matter, the most severe moments of despair that occur all too often in my fanhood. I can tell you that the magnetism of The Shot vs. Houston or The Comeback vs. Dallas (which I was lucky enough to see in person) wouldn’t be nearly as strong without the painful memories of Blazer eras stained by both personal and physical frailty. It is the darkness that let’s me better savor the light, and then never take it for granted.
While all the games weren’t as exciting as this one, I can say with a little pride (and a lot of lost sleep) that I watched every Blazer game through all four of my years in college. If it wasn’t on national TV then I streamed it online. Amidst all of the academic growth, social exploration and personal independence that come with the college years, there were always the Blazers. I grew up alongside Brandon, LaMarcus, Nic and even The Mythical Oden. I rode the wave of enthusiasm that came with the surprising success of the ’08-’09 season, I consistently latched on to the belief come playoff time that we were a dark horse for deep playoff success when I knew in my mind that our playing style and lack of experience surely weren’t indicative of that success. I watched as injury after injury seemingly served as the last straw that broke the Trailcat’s back, then became more invested each time it turned out not to be. I cried when I thought Brandon had retired and I grew infuriated when Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford seemed to take away what was the last of this team’s innocence.
I find it comforting that the last four years of both my life and the life of the Blazers were such whirlwinds of ups and downs, a long line of growth, destruction and renewal. I rose and fell with them. I was in a very dark personal place for much of my senior year of high school as well as my first two years of college. I couldn’t pinpoint the source of my depression nor could I stop the seeping of light from my outlook on myself and the world around me. All I knew was that it was pervasive and it was suffocating. While I should be careful not to attribute too much credit to an external source such as the Blazers for my personal turnaround, I can say that, at its most simple, it was nice to look forward to the games. It was nice to hope and it was nice to fear. Most importantly, it was nice to have strong feelings about something that, in the end, didn’t really matter. I know that it’s weird to praise the Blazers for pointing some of my strongest feelings toward something that had no lasting effect on me or those close to me. But, during the darkest times, I shudder at the thought of to what those feelings would have led if they were directed at things that did. This is my most personal debt of gratitude to the boys in black, white and red.
Now that I’ve graduated and come back home, I, like the Blazers, don’t really know what’s next. It’ll probably take a couple of years. There will be fun new prospects, predictable pitfalls and outcomes will be borne out of a tenuous combination of luck, talent and hard work. I can’t wait to see where the waves of Rip City take us.