Bfan's "Getting to Know You" diary with everybody's stories got me thinking a little bit about my Blazer history. I thought it would be neat to share the best moments we've witnessed with the team. Now I'm talking "witnessed" as in "I was actually there live to see it", otherwise we'd just talk about Finals appearances and such.
Since my family didn't have much disposable income to buy tickets when I was a child and I've spent much of my adult life away from Portland I'm maybe more limited than some in what I can relay. I've mostly watched the team on TV--in the old Blazer Cable days with friends and now on my dish--with a handful of live appearances sprinkled in. But there was a certain era where I had the magic combination of being present and gainfully employed, and that's enough to create a Top 5. Not all of them are in-game moments but they don't have to be.
#5 Clyde Dunks on a 12-Foot Hoop at the Summer Fan Fest
This is one of those stories that seems like legend because we were all younger and everything was bigger than life, but it's true. I don't remember the exact year but it was early 90's. Clyde was in his prime. The Blazers held their annual Summer Fan Fest and had a dunk contest between four guys on the team. Kersey was part of it too, which made it semi-exciting, even though you pretty much knew coming in that Clyde was going to win it. Anyway it was down to those two when Clyde told them to raise the rim up to 11 feet. Everybody looked at each other like, "Nuh-UH!" But he got a running start and he threw it down. But he wasn't finished. He had them put it up AGAIN to 12 feet. Now everyone was going crazy. You could have heard a pin drop as he approached, rose in the air, and suddenly everybody in the square (downtown) was yelling at the top of their lungs. I think he had them raise it to 12.5 after but he couldn't make that last one, but nobody cared. The contest was OVER. We knew Clyde was really special, but dang! That was amazing. Most of us couldn't even touch the bottom of the net on a 12 foot hoop and this guy dunked it.
#4 Drazen Petrovic Warms Up
I believe this was 1991 and I had a solo ticket to see us play the Nuggets. It was one of the rare occasions I went alone and one of the only times I've ever been in the lower reaches of the arena. I was about nine rows up. I got there well before the game and the Blazer Dancers were warming up. There was a particularly tall, blonde dancer that all the guys were gaga over and the two stupid businessmen beside me were making snide comments about her. Meanwhile I was looking right past them and her to the other end of the court where Drazen was out there all alone, shooting from the three-point line. My vantage point was directly behind him. There was a straight line...me, Drazen, the hoop. He must have shot fifteen or twenty times from that spot. Not ONCE did the ball deviate from that straight line. No wavering, no curving, never long, never short. He hit every...single...one. Somewhere in the middle of that display the obnoxious businessmen must have noticed too because when Drazen was finished and was walking calmly off the court to the locker room (as if this was the norm) they looked at each other and then at me and said, "Wow!". He only got a couple minutes in that game and he was traded soon afterwards, but I'll never forget how pure his shot was. If you ever had dreams of becoming a pro player because you could hit a few in practice that would drain it right out of you quick.
#3 Clyde Goes Behind the Back on Kiki
This is one of those that I'm in danger of combining memories but I'm almost positive this was late in the season in 1991-92. My sister and I had gone to quite a few games that year but we wanted to take my mom. So I found some tickets in the paper...three of them together, again by some miracle lower bowl. Mom had watched the team on TV but she hadn't been to a game in years and years. It was a tough game as I recall and we ended up losing it, which disappointed me because you take your mom to one game and that's the one they blow? But smack dab in the middle of that game (again to the best of my recollection) Clyde had the ball off a turnover and was streaking down with, as Steve Jones used to say, "mean intentions". The only guy back was Clyde's best friend and former teammate Kiki Vandeweghe. Kiki, though broken down, had enough pride to not let Drexler have the easy dunk. So he came in streaking from the left and made a lunge at the ball, figuring maybe he could knock it away or at worst pick up a foul and make Clyde work for the two. So Kiki makes his lunge and all of a sudden you see Clyde whip the ball away from him and around his back, sidestep the now-extended Vandeweghe (making him look like a bull that just missed the cape), and lay it in calmly like nothing had happened. I can't do it justice in words. It was one of the greatest plays I've ever seen in person. My mom and I just looked at each other like, "Did you SEE that?" The whole crowd was abuzz for a good minute afterwards.
#2 Greeting the Team at the Hillsboro Airport
There's no doubt about this one. It was May 31st, 1990 and the Portland Trailblazers had just defeated the Phoenix Suns 112-109 in Phoenix to win the Western Conference Finals and take us back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1977. In those days I always watched the games at the house of my best friend Matt. When the Blazers won the game we couldn't believe that we were actually going to the Finals! A while later the announcement leaked over the radio that the team was flying back that night and would land at the Hillsboro Airport, time undetermined. Matt called me up and asked if I wanted to go. I said, "Can we DO that?" He said a bunch of other people were. So we grabbed his brother and my sister and hopped in their family's old grey Volvo and drove out there. It was really late at night but that place was PACKED. We had to walk probably half a mile from where we parked the car to get to the gate. That's not much of an airport to begin with (or at least it wasn't in those days) but there were THOUSANDS of people there. The main gates to the actual airstrip were blocked off by the sheriff but people were lined twenty across at the chain and packed hundreds of feet deep around the corner of the building. There was even a guy in a tree trying to get a glimpse. They kept making announcements that the plane was en route and more and more people kept coming. We were probably a good 500 feet back from the airstrip entrance around a corner by a side fence. When they made the announcement that the plane was almost here some guys started climbing that side fence to get on the airstrip itself. We decided we weren't going to go that far overboard. But then so many people started climbing it that the fence section collapsed. After that all bets were off and our whole side of the crowd started streaming through the hole and down towards the main entrance. What could the police do? They just backed up far enough to keep people away from the runway itself and let everybody in. It was a sea of people. KEX was there and they had microphones and the TV news stations were there with lights and cameras too. When the plane was spotted a roar went up which continued upon touchdown and got even louder as the first players emerged. You could tell they were stunned and couldn't believe their eyes. I guess they had warned them that there might be people there to greet them but I think they were imagining a couple dozen or maybe one hundred at the outside. Nobody expected thousands. Several of the guys made speeches and said thank you to the crowd, and the stunned expressions never left their faces. They were literally at a loss for words to describe the moment. And we loved every bit of it. And the funny part was other than the fence climbing and breaking (which was somewhat understandable) nothing even remotely bad went on that night that we could see, even with thousands of people showing up for an impromptu rally at a horribly inadequate facility. Everyone was friendly, everyone was happy, there was little or no traffic snarling or angry honking or pushing and shoving or disorderly conduct of any kind. It was just Blazer fans having some great fun and their own little party with a few thousand of their friends. It's got to be one of the greatest pure fan moments in history.
#1 Jerome Kersey Throws Down on the Spurs
Again there's no doubt with this one: November 24th, 1991. Before we had met Phoenix in the Conference Finals the year prior we had an amazing nip-and-tuck series with David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs. It went to seven games, each team winning on its own home floor, and us squeaking by in the finale 108-105. Game 5 of that series had gone into overtime as well. Between that and the narrow finish there was little doubt that the Spurs felt they should have been the ones advancing instead of us. This was the first time we had met since the end of that series and they wanted to prove that this year would be different. What happened next was amazing. In Blazer Lore it's known simply as the "Perfect First Quarter". And yes, I was there. We ended up missing, like, three shots in the entire first twelve minutes. It was a dazzling array of shooting, stealing, running, rebounding, passing, defending, everything. If I recall correctly the score at the end of the period was 49-18 in our favor and the Spurs were done, from the Admiral down to the guy who swabbed the poop deck. The capping moment of the quarter (though not the last score by far) came when we were already ahead by double digits but we got a steal and started running. Nobody filled the lane like that incarnation of the Portland team. Kersey, Drexler, Williams...they all ran and they all could finish. The ball went to (I believe) Danny Ainge who held it on the right side extended, and then you saw Jerome coming on the secondary break. I mean, everybody in the building saw it coming except the Spurs. Here's #25 streaking right down Broadway, you see Danny flick a pinpoint pass to him just as he gets to the free throw line, one step, airborne, and BOOM! The crowd was already hoarse from screaming for all the things that happened before that point but literally at that moment you could not have fit one more decibel of sound in that building without crumbing the roof. My sister and I were on our feet yelling as loud as we could and we just could not hear ourselves, let alone each other. I don't think I've heard a sound like that since. It wasn't thought out or pre-planned in any way. It wasn't even conscious for most people I'll bet. It was just a moment where everything came out of everyone present and filled the arena spontaneously. Kersey ripped the cork off the deepest recesses of Blazermania that night and it was something to behold.
So those are mine...what are yours? Again, on or off the court we're talking moments you've been there for and seen in person...no TV, no radio, no news...just you and an encounter with the team.