This is the last of what has now become a trilogy of pieces on what it's like to be a Blazer fan right now. As I read the commments and ponder the issues more stuff comes to mind. And hey, the dog days of summer are a decent time to talk about the subtleties of fandom anyway. You hardly get a spare breath during the regular season.
The driving point of all of these pieces is to highlight what an interesting and unusual time we're in as fans right now. It's not only a time of transition for the team, it's a time of transition for us as well. How we think about and talk about this franchise (not to mention the expectations we have of it) is changing as rapidly as the team roster. Yet we still have some of those old views and habits hanging on, which makes for an interesting mix.
The era we just came out of was unprecedented in team history...and really maybe in the history of relations between team and fans in any sport. It's hard to cite a goose more golden laying eggs more rotten anywhere. That experience very much influenced the tenor of our fandom.
I think it's safe to say that in the last six years nobody remained a strenuous Blazer fan except the hardest of the hardcore. (Or the most gluttonous of the masochists, depending on your perspective.) Anyone who had even the slightest inkling of dropping the team did. Nobody who wasn't invested up to their earlobes bothered to engage the subject in any way...tickets, forum conversations, TV viewership, anything.
This crucible of watching the whole universe either ignore or disparage the team forged a new kind of fan. Supporting the Blazers wasn't just a matter of enjoyment or reward (there was relatively little of either by objective standards), it became almost like a stiffly-held religion. You were either inside or outside the cabal...there wasn't much middle ground. And the prime indicator of how inside you were was how positively you talked about/cheered for/hoped for the team and its success in the face of everybody else's pessimism. With the entire world ragging on the team criticism within the hallowed halls of Blazerdom seemed like heresy. This was largely true of the team and its leadership but it was also true of the remnant of the embattled fan base.
A very interesting phenomenon cropped up during these years. Every team's fans start every season with renewed hope, but among the remaining loyal Blazer fans that hope reached a fervor. I don't mean people were predicting championships. Nobody would have gone that far. But this was always going to be the year that Zach turned it around and led the team back to glory, or that Theo stayed healthy, or that our rookies broke out, or that Darius got his head on straight. And woe be unto you if you said different. Again, some of that is normal, but at times this took on an odd, pervasive disconnection from reality. I remember when then-GM John Nash flat-out announced that the team would probably win around 20 games. After he said that I read through another forum to see the reaction. (This was pre-Blazersedge.) A significant and vocal cadre of fans thought that it was all a smoke screen, designed to throw off the opposition and temper expectations so the team could surprise us with 40 wins or so. We ended up winning around 20 which is pretty much what an impartial observer would have predicted.
Here's my point: during the past few years loyal fans have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. They've had to uphold a team which frankly has been pretty poor on the court and a national embarrassment off it. One of the coping mechanisms in this situation has been the tendency to pump up expectations--in essence to invent reasons why we'll be good or why being bad isn't so bad--even when those expectations fly in the face of reality. It's completely understandable, completely loyal, and maybe even a necessary response given the overwhelming tide of negativity that typified the era. But here's the rub: we're now exiting that era. The need to cover, inflate, and dream wildly is about to be replaced by something revolutionary: reality.
Folks, we are going to be good. We are probably going to be really, really good. This is the difference between wishing you could win the Powerball and actually having a job that pays you that much. One's a pipe dream without much substance, probably covering something that's not going as well as you planned. (Old era.) The other is a bankable achievement that heralds success and surety. (New era.) If you've got the second, you don't need the first. This is the mental shift the team will be making in the next couple of seasons, but fans have to make it also.
The catch is, as we talked about yesterday, being really good is going to take a little bit of time. It's not going to happen instantly...probably not even this season too much. It'll be slow, but it'll be real. The temptation, I fear, is to eschew that reality for the old way...the quick, fanciful, inflated Powerball dream. To my mind that would be a shame because all of those pre-season Powerball dreams had one thing in common: they were crushed mercilessly, usually well before the All-Star break. This was usually accompanied by some measure of despondency or, failing that, even more compensation with even more expectations. It really didn't matter much then because we weren't missing much with the team's performance being so poor. But it would be a shame if all of that drama overshadowed the marked progress we probably will make now...progress that's not so dramatic but is infinitely more satisfying if you look at it the right way because it heralds even more, and better, reality on the horizon.
I guess I'm saying that as the team switches mindsets between a losing era and (hopefully) a winning one we too need to switch mindsets from losing fans to winning ones. It used to be that there was nobody better at that than Portland fans because we won so much and so consistently. I hope we haven't forgotten how to do it. I do know the winning mindset involves far less defensiveness, bitter isolation, wishful thinking, and hunkered-down rigidity and far more embracing and appreciation for what's going on. Oddly enough, that transition may be the hardest for those who carried the torch the strongest during the previous era.
The team IS going to win soon. They're going to make significant strides towards that this year. It would be a shame if we missed some of the enjoyment of that from being focused on things that used to matter far more than they do now, or are going to.