5:00 p.m. on a Friday.
Outside of Christmas, Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and a few other scattered holidays, there's no better time to bury bad news. By 5:00 p.m. Pacific, most of the country's cubicles are empty or emptying, many media members have already called it a week, and you can be certain that there will be another newer, fresher story, or two, or three, or four, by the time Monday morning rolls around. Tiger won, did you hear? Barbara Walters is retiring. Remember that time she slowly asked questions? That was great. The Portland Trail Blazers gave a jersey to the Dalai Lama! O.M.G., how cool!
Sorry, you can't bury Jay Jensen that easily.
In case you missed it this weekend: Jensen, the Blazers' trainer who took more heat over the last five years than everyone associated with the organization outside of Paul Allen, Greg Oden, Larry Miller and Raymond Felton, no longer works for the team after 19 years.
Blazers GM Neil Olshey tried his best to dump out that news around 5:00 p.m. on Friday, hoping that it would get swept under the rug. This would have been the 2012-13 NBA season's best attempt at sliding news under the table, except the Minnesota Timberwolves announced that Kevin Love was undergoing season-ending knee surgery shortly after tip off of the NCAA National Championship game. Nobody can top that.
NINETEEN years. Jensen was taping ankles during Clyde Drexler's last season. Jensen was taping ankles when Damian Lillard was still ankle-high. Meanwhile, in 1994, according to an ESPN.com profile, the ax-swinger had just moved to Los Angeles where he starting work as an actor in television commercials, pitching for Honda and Coke.
The Blazers issued no press release for Jensen, the man who was propped up at a press conference where he was interrogated extensively about his treatment of Oden, the man who reportedly ran hills with the 2007 No. 1 overall pick during his endless rehabilitation. The farewell amounted to nothing more than a one-sentence statement from Olshey offering bland gratitude, the type of note you would leave to your hotel housekeeper upon checkout.
This 5 p.m. treatment swept away a man who was backed endlessly by Miller, then-Acting GM Chad Buchanan, former coach Nate McMillan and anyone else of any importance, as his reputation and treatment methods drew blame, criticism and media investigations. Miller even went hard to the "Blame the media" card when Jensen's credentials were questioned. For years, this had been "us versus them" with Jensen firmly one of the "us." Then Friday brought a 5 p.m. eviction notice for a guy who, regardless of the legitimacy of those outside criticisms, was still deemed employable by Olshey for an entire season.
Jensen was given the hush-hush heave-ho just a few weeks after he was still deemed valuable enough to treat LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and the rest of the 2012-13 Blazers. He didn't even get a "thank you" tweet from the team's official account. Snoop Dogg retweet? Check. Farewell to an employee of nearly two decades? Must have slipped their minds.
Maybe there just wasn't enough time to offer a real send-off with the need to rehearse for Saturday's big stage. "What do you call the Lama anyway? Mr. Lama? Mr. Dalai? Do I bow? How firmly should I shake his hand?" For the record, Olshey settled on "Your Holiness", a bow, and a two-hand, wrist-caressing handshake. To no one's surprise, when it came time for that photo opportunity, Olshey was right next to the Dalai Lama, smiling ear-to-ear. Meanwhile Jensen was packing his bags. We've seen this play out repeatedly in the last year. If you're a part of his concept of the team or you can enhance the image, then we'll see you on the podium. If not, you're an afterthought, the Invisible Man.
Being a general manager involves managing people, not just a roster. There's no good way to fire somebody, but there are plenty of bad ones. With so much employment turnover in the last year and the possibility of further changes coming, doing this properly should be old hat, not an impossible task. The non-diehard who tuned out in early March might get duped by the Friday at 5:00 p.m. scheme but those working closest to Olshey and those who have worked for an extended period of time with the organization surely didn't skim over this firing or its public non--delivery. It's a curious approach from a man who sits in what has been the organization's hottest seat, a man who needs as much loyalty and support as he can get.
Jensen isn't Mother Teresa, or a saint, or a Lama. Complaints about him and his work occupied, I would guess, more than 200 working hours of my life. But this is a guy who put nearly two decades into an organization and spent three solid years in the crosshairs as Oden and Brandon Roy crumbled. He deserved better than what he received at the end.
Hopefully, the jersey presentation with the Dalai Lama -- a smile-inducing moment -- served as a lesson for Olshey. Watch the tape back and you can easily hear the crowd erupting in cheers. But the replay reveals only light applause when Olshey and Blazers president Chris McGowan arrive on stage. The cheers don't really start until the jersey comes out. The crowd is cheering the jersey, and how it represents the organization and the city of Portland, not the man delivering it.
That's been true in Portland for as long as I can remember. The jersey will be here 19 years from now, just like it was here 19 years ago. Olshey would do well to heed the lesson of that moment by casting a kinder public light on those who came before him, those who made that jersey draw a legitimate ovation. This isn't Los Angeles, where an endless supply of entertainment options makes thoughts of the past more disposable. This is Portland, where the good-old-days hover as cherished memories, especially when the present happens to be stuck in the lottery.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter