Every once in a while I like to reminisce, calling to mind great Blazer moments gone by. The one that came to mind today was the day we made one of the biggest trades in franchise history.
It was the fall of 1999. We had just come off a great run to the Western Conference Finals in the lockout-shortened season. That run had ended with a crushing sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. "Trader Bob" Whitsitt had already made one definitive move that summer, trading troubled star Isaiah Rider and Jim Jackson to Atlanta for veteran scoring guard Steve Smith. That was nothing compared to the bombshell that was about to go off in October.
That summer I had moved to a new job in the hinterlands of Iowa. I lived and worked in a small town of about 300 people. I had been there three months and folks had just gotten a chance to get to know me...which of course also meant becoming familiar with my passion for the Blazers. (I have this tendency to wear team shirts everywhere I go.) One morning I was working with a bunch of kids when one of them came in and said, "Did you hear the news?"
I said, "What news?"
They said, "The Blazers got Scottie Pippen."
"The Blazers got WHO???"
"No way. You're lying. Who did they trade for him then?"
"I don't know. It's in the paper."
"Well GET ME THAT PAPER! QUICK!"
So the guys ran home full speed and got me a paper and sure enough, there it was...front and center on page one of the sports section. Portland Trades for Pippen. I jumped up and down screaming! Then I skimmed through the article to see who the heck we traded for him. Rasheed? Brian Grant? WHAT? Walt Williams, Kelvin Cato, and change??????? WAAAAAAAAAAAA-HOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!! I had to blink, like, thirty times and read it again. That's what it said alright. That was just...nifty.
And you know, at that moment I KNEW. We had Arvydas Sabonis, Rasheed Wallace, Brian Grant, and Scottie Pippen in the frontcourt. We had Steve Smith in the backcourt and we were all still overrating Damon Stoudamire at the time. We were making a serious run at the finals again. That team was SET.
This was also exactly the time that Smashmouth came out with the song "All-Star". The first time I heard that I realized it dovetailed so perfectly with what the Blazers had become. It became my unofficial theme song for them for the season. To this day it still brings back memories of what it felt like.
Of course that team didn't quite go as far as I'd hoped it would. I did have a famous moment with them. I had a steady e-mail group of friends who all talked Blazers. (This was well before blogging time.) As you may recall we went down 3-1 in the Conference Finals series with the Lakers and Game 5 was in L.A. Well before the game I wrote to the entire group and said flat-out, "We are winning this one." It wasn't bravado or hope...I really felt like I had this team clocked and my gut told me this was a win. It turned out exactly that way. Before Game 6 I said, "This one is a win too." Again we pulled it off and now we were tied 3-3. One of the guys wrote before Game 7 and said, "PLEASE tell me we're going to win this one!!!" I answered honestly that I couldn't because my emotions were screwing everything up. I didn't know. I wish I did...or at least would have faked it.
Perhaps the greatest moment with that team came in the fourth quarter of that deciding Game 7 when Rasheed threw down one of his vicious dunks and we went up by teen-type numbers. I got out of my seat and hollered all over the place. Nobody had given us any chance to win the series and hang with the L*kers and darned if we weren't going to do it. For that brief moment it tasted like championship again. It didn't work out that way but I still remember the feeling. I also remember that Pippen was the linch-pin for that team even though he was no longer the centerpiece or even the most talented player. Without him that team wouldn't have won 59 games and come within 10 minutes of the Finals. It was Bob Whitsitt's finest hour and probably his best trade.