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The History of Blazer Blogging, Installment 1: An Interview from the Inside

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One of the things that interests me as a blogger-type person is the evolution of the medium.  Blogging and internet sports reporting in general have come a long way in a relatively short time.  But that doesn't mean there's no history behind them.  In fact the history is more exciting for being so swift-moving.  To trace this concept as it relates to online coverage of the Portland Trail Blazers we're going to be interviewing several bloggers, past and present, who have contributed to the movement.

It's natural and easiest to start with the guy we know best.  He also happens to be the guy with the deepest look into the team right now.  He is, of course, Casey Holdahl of the Center Court Blog.  Even knowing Casey and his general career path I found some revelations in here about his job and the medium.   If you've ever dreamed out being the guy who works for the team and wondered what that glamorous life is like, this is for you.

Blazersedge.com:  First of all, just how are things going?  What's it like working for the team?

Things here at Trail Blazers HQ are going very well. There's a lot of excitement here in the office in anticipation of returning to the playoffs. I don't know if I'd say everyone has an extra hop in their step, but I think there's a feeling throughout the organization that we might be on the verge of something big.

It's a long season though. You always hear about the players feeding off the energy of the crowd, and we here in the office are no different. The enthusiasm the fans bring as a community, both in and out of the Rose Garden, goes a long way toward sustaining those of us who put in long hours. There's a whole lot that goes into running a team in the NBA (at least if you want to do it right), and as you might imagine, there are a whole lot of people who put in a whole lot of hours to see to it that this venture can be as successful as possible.

Blazersedge.com:  Is the rumor true that all Blazer employees have personalized jerseys hanging from their office doors?  What's it like to see "Holdahl" on a Blazer jersey hanging up there?

Very cool, though my jersey fits more like a dress than a shirt, which is probably by design. I guess they don't want me wearing the thing out, which I would if it were a better fit. Maybe I could wear it with a belt around my waist, but I don't think I'm ready to start the men's babydoll dress trend. Not yet ...

Those jerseys really speak to the ethos we have in the office regarding being a Trail Blazer. When the public thinks about who the Portland Trail Blazers are, they think if the players, the coaches, the guys in the front office. But as an organization, we're all Trail Blazers, from the top down.

Case in point: Larry Miller, our team president, former head of Jordan Brand, a man who has Michael Jordan on speed dial, held the door for me the other day after I got off the elevator. And it's not like he just held it for a second. He walked out of the door, saw I was getting off the elevator, then walked back and grabbed the door so I wouldn't have to use my key card to get into the office. This is the team president, but in these walls, we're on the same team. The franchise really believes in the concept of team, of a winning culture, which is probably one of the reasons why people in the office bust their humps on a daily basis.

Semi-funny story regarding the jerseys. Part of your initiation as a member of the Trail Blazers is that you're supposed to wear your jersey around during your first day. People get to know your name, know why there's an unfamiliar face roaming around the office, take pictures of you looking sort of goofy. For one reason or another, mine wasn't ready on my first day. No big.

So as I'm going around the office introducing myself, Sarah Mensah, our CMO notices I'm sans jersey. I promise her I'll wear my jersey when it's ready, but that's not going to fly. So she takes her jersey off her door, throws it to me and tells me to wear it for the rest of the day. I'm a fairly amiable guy, not to mention in no position to argue on my first day with one of the top dogs in the office (I'm still not in that position, by the way), so I move through the halls at One Center Court for the rest of the day as Sarah Mensah.

Blazersedge.com:  Are they going to take that thing and raise it up to the rafters of the office building someday?  If so, can I come out and tell stories on you?

I'm happy with it remaining on my door. I'll be damned if mine is going to be the next up in the rafters of the Rose Garden. Not to mention that hoisting my jersey to the rafters would signal the end of my Trail Blazers career, and I'm no where close to ready for that.

By the way, if we're going to retire the jersey of an employee, Chuck Charnquist, aka "the Charnquistador", has to be first. Chuck, the team historian, archivist and stat guru, has been with the team since this thing started, so he's eminently more qualified for that honor than I.

But if you want to tell stories about me, feel free. I'm sure there are at least three or four people who would be interested. Maybe more. I've got a fairly large family.

Blazersedge.com:  Being "inside" has advantages--particularly access--but it also presents special challenges in terms of credibility and boundaries and such.  What's the philosophy of the Center Court blog?  What are you trying to do with it?

I'm just trying to tell stories I think fans might be interested in. Of course, I'm going to approach those stories from the perspective of an employee of the team, so you're not read anything on Center Court that's going to put anyone on blast. And I'm cool with that.

But I don't think I'm necessarily a cheerleader either. I've never written something that I didn't believe.

My first job out of college was working as a reading and writing assistant at Newberg High School (go Tigers!). A lot of the work I did revolved around getting students ready to take standardized tests, which had become an important task with the implementation of No Child Left Behind. Did I think teaching to the test was always the best use of mine or the student's time? No, but it was the task I was assigned. And I firmly believe I helped both the students and the school in the long run. I view my work with the Trail Blazers and the Center Court Blog in a similar way.

Blazersedge.com:  What direction is the team going with its online coverage?  What would they like to see happen in the next few years?

We're trying all kinds of new things. The fact that we have people devoted solely to web content speaks to the importance the franchise has put on the medium. It seems like almost every team in the NBA has a web content guy/girl now, which wasn't the case that long ago. It'll be beneficial for everyone in the long run.

As for where we're going specifically, you're going to see our site continue to expand. More video, live event coverage, podcasts, direct interaction between fans and players, user generated content. Things like that.

In the near future, we're putting the finishing touches on the newest iteration of the iamatrailblazersfan.com. And by "newest iteration," I mean a complete and total overhaul. New look, new functionality, new content management system. Everything. It's massive.

We're expanding our use of social media. I'd like to point out that we've been using sites like Twitter and Facebook for a while now. Have we ramped up? Sure, but we're hardly jumping on the bandwagon.

Blazersedge.com:  Many people don't know this, but you are one of the first people (in this area anyway) to break the glass ceiling.  You started as a blogger here at Blazersedge.  You went to Oregonlive and really ramped up the coverage there, most memorably in terms of weekly interviews with Kevin Pritchard and increased access to team members.  Then the Blazers themselves came calling with a position basically made just for you.  Describe that journey a little bit.  Do you ever sit back and think, "Wow!"

That's very kind of you Dave, but not entirely accurate. I've got to give credit to a lot of other people before I take any for myself. And that's not modesty; it's just being real.

It is true that I started Blazersedge, though the best thing I ever did for that site was turning it over to Dave. I take a great deal of pride in knowing I had at least a small role in what Blazersedge has become.

As for ramping up the coverage at OregonLive, much of that praise has to go to Eric Marenttete, who was running the Blazer Blog at O-Live when I got there, and Kevin Cosgrove, OregonLive's Editor-in-Chief at the time. They laid the groundwork for much of the great stuff, such as the Steve Patterson and Kevin Pritchard interviews, that I was lucky enough to implement. Eric did a lot to legitimize blogs as a real media outlet, and Cosgrove had the foresight to know the increasing importance of the web as a way to produce new content, rather than regurgitate print content. So kudos to those guys, along with Ben Sherman, Sean Meagher, Tim Brown, Alley Hector, Cory Mandina, Lawrence Siulagi, Lora Huntley and Nick Hernandez, for giving me the tools and support to take the coverage to the next level. Have to give some credit to Jason Quick as well.

As for the team making a position for me, that's also not entirely accurate. Jim Taylor, now our Director of Sports Communications, was really the guy who the position was created for. I believe "Blazers Evangelist" was the title. The only reason I'm here now is because Jim did a good job of proving such a position had value.

As for my journey, it's not all that exciting. I was working in Albany and living in Salem. I had two pretty good jobs, working for Linn-Benton Community College full-time and the Statesman Journal part-time, but neither position afforded me much opportunity to be creative. So I started writing a Trail Blazer blog in my idle hours. I was reading TrueHoop, the OregonLive Blazer blog on a daily basis, but it was a Sonics blog called Supersonicsoul that really got me thinking about what I could do as a writer. It was fan driven and a bit on the sarcastic side, which is what I enjoyed about it (it certainly wasn't because I had any love for the Sonics...) As far as I knew, there wasn't anything similar for Trail Blazers fans, so I took up that mantle.

Basically everything took off from there. OregonLive had a position open about a year later, most focusing on high school sports, and by that time I was certain working in sports on the web was what I wanted to do, so I moved north and started covering prep sports. After a few months, Eric was hired away by Kobe Bryant, and I slid into his position as Blazer blogger.

About a year and a half after that, a position opened up with the team. My goal was always to work for the team, but I figured that was a long shot. Maybe it was, but what can I say, I got lucky. And even then, it wasn't an easy decision. I really enjoyed working with the people at OregonLive and the energy of day to day life in a newsroom, but I figured I probably had one chance to get in with a professional sports franchise, so I took it.

Blazersedge.com:  Talk about how internet sports coverage has changed from the time you started to now.  How do you see it evolving in the future?

Legitimacy is the biggest difference. When I started blogging, everything was a gripefest. Someone calling someone an idiot. Some calling someone else an idiot for calling someone else an idiot. I was as guilty of this as anyone else.

But now it's real. People writing primarily on the internet have realized there's little future in being a professional wiseass. There are sites still getting by using that principle, but I think their popularity is waning. As people who grew up with the internet get older, so too do their tastes. I rarely visit most of the sites I'd frequent a few years ago, and the reasons are twofold. One, I myself have grown up. And two, the quantity of quality work on the web has increased exponentially. There's much better work out there to be consumed, so why waste time reading shouting matches between the anonymous?

Guys like Henry Abbott, John Hollinger, Ian Thomsen, guys who would have or already have worked in print media, are now working primarily on the web. That steps up everybody's game.

Jason Quick is a great example of that. He's still writing great stories for the paper, but you could argue that some of his best work recently is exclusive to the web. His "Behind The Locker Room Door" blog posts and his "Rip City Revival" series should be handed out to J-School students as an example of how writing for the web is different but just as relevant as writing for print.

Blazersedge.com:  Any fond memories from your Blazersedge days you care to share?

I guess one of my fondest memories is the first time I had legitimate interaction with the players at the PF. I won a contest through trailblazers.com to "Be a journalist for a day." Basically I got to go to the PF and ask two players five questions. I neglected to mention I was already running a blog and planned on using the interviews as a springboard to bigger and better things, as I thought they might recant on the offer.

I don't even remember now what the questions were, but I know I asked Sebastian Telfair how he thought I would look with cornrows. And Zach Randolph told me he used the internet to look for dogs, which I thought was interesting. I seem to recall that I was cut off mid-question at one point, but maybe I'm being revisionist.

Probably my proudest moment when I was running Blazersedge is that I pinned the 2006 Draft. I wrote the team wanted Brandon Roy AND LaMarcus Aldridge when many seemed to think Adam Morrison was the guy they had targeted. Draft night rolls around, Patterson and Pritchard make moves to get both, and I look like I actually knew what I was talking about.

Blazersedge.com:  What's your most memorable moment from your time with the team so far?  Any crazy stories?

Most memorable moment had to be the first road trip I went on back in December of 2007.

We had beaten Philly 97-72 at the Rose Garden, which was the 13th straight win. That game was the first night of a back-to-back, with the Jazz looming the next night in Salt Lake City. On those occasions, the team goes straight from the arena to the airport. So I finish up my game night stuff, and then head out to PDX to catch the plane. Suffice to say, I'm pretty cranked.

I noticed on the drive from the Rose Garden to the airport that my car is running pretty rough, which is no surprise considering it's a piece of crap. I don't pay it much mind, as I don't want to be the guy holding up the flight. I drive on not worrying too much about it.

Everyone is waiting in their cars for the gate to open up so we can drive out to the tarmac. I'm excited for the trip, but feeling a little self-conscious being the new guy in a truly crappy car.

Then comes a knock on my window. It's assistant general manager Tom Penn, who at this point probably doesn't know who I am considering I had only been with the team for a few weeks. Nevertheless, he's kind enough to inform me that coolant is flowing out of the bottom of my 1996 Volkswagen Golf. So there I am, fluid running out of my VW, waiting for a private jet with people who are driving cars worth more than my house. Nice start.

Fast forward about 24 hours. It's New Year's Eve and I'm in the dining room at Energy Solutions Arena and I feel like it's my first day at a new school. I'm holding my plate, surveying the room to see if I recognize anyone to sit with. I see Kevin Pritchard, Tom Penn, Mike Barrett and a few others sitting at a table, but there's no way I'm going to try to sit down those guys, the cool kids if you will, on the first day of school. So I decide to sit next to Bob, one of the team's two security guards, who is sitting by himself at a table. Great guy, that Bob.

I don't know if it was happenstance or if Kevin had seen me looking around like a freshman trying to find his only friend in the cafeteria, but he came over and invited me to sit with him and the others. But I'm the only person sitting with Bob, and though I'd love to listen into their conversation and maybe make a few intelligent quips of my own, I can't up and leave Bob by himself, so I thank KP, but decline the offer.

We end up losing to Utah 111-101 in a physical game. LaMarcus scores his career-high, but the winning streak is now broken. In my mind, as far as anyone on the team is concerned, I'm the reason we lose the game. KP is wearing pink ties to every game, doing his part to keep the streak alive, but the team makes the mistake of sending the new guy out on the road in the midst of one of the longest winning streaks in franchise history.

So I'm feeling pretty crappy, but there's still work to be done. Postgame interview time and it's me, Quick, and the team in the locker room. I'm standing next to Quick in front of Brandon Roy's locker as he starts getting dressed. Brandon has not had a great game, fouling out with 17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 turnovers. I'm standing there trying to think of a question to ask.

"Brandon, where does the team go from here," I ask, thinking it's an ok jumping off point for the rest of the interview.

Brandon gives me a look like I've asked about the dumbest question he's ever heard, which may or may not be the case. His response...

"Minnesota."

Zing.

Ask a stupid question. Check. Piss off the face of the franchise. Check. All in all, a great night for me.

Quick is there to stick up a little for me, but it's really my fault. It was a tough game, the second of a back-to-back, the team hadn't lost in a month, he's not familiar with seeing me on the road, and I ask kind of a lame question. Serves me right. Taught me a bit, too.

But it all ends well. We fly out that night and despite the streak being broken, the team is in a good mood, joking and having a grand old time as we ring in the New Year in the air somewhere between Salt Lake City and Minneapolis. Sergio is forcing everyone to eat grapes, as is the Spanish New Years tradition. Players, coaches and broadcasters are wearing party hats, goofing around, enjoying each others company.

We get to Minneapolis. The hotel we stay at has a club on the ground floor, and we get in just as the bar is closing. We get a lot of funny looks from drunken party-goers, many of whom are dressed as if it's not well below freezing outside.

Long story somewhat shorter, we go on to win the next two games, including a double-overtime victory in Chicago that is still one of the best games I've seen in person. We return back to Portland, and by that time, my Volkswagen has already been towed back to my house in SE Portland. Full circle.

Thanks to Casey for the time, the peek at life behind the curtain, and the trademark wry humor.  Be sure and check out the Center Court Blog daily if you don't already.

Oh, and fess up, now.  How many of you would have dumped Bob the Security Guy for KP?

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)