As the final game of the year versus the Thunder comes around, it seems an appropriate time to check in with one of the more prominent Sonics backers who attempted to make a transition to Blazer fandom this year. The highly-magnanimous Sherman Alexie was good enough to share his story with us.
Six times this season, as a professional basketball orphan, as a teamless vagabond, I made the drive from Seattle to Portland to watch the Blazers. It was fun the first time. It was difficult the second time. The third, fourth, and fifth trips were torturous. I drove through a horrendous fog the sixth time and decided that, were I to die in a car crash, I would come back and haunt every owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I didn't even make the trip for the seventh, eighth, and ninth games of my ten-game package. I gave those tickets to friends who live in Portland. And just now, I gave away my tickets to the Blazers-Lakers game on Friday. Yes, I gave away a chance to see Brandon Roy versus Kobe Bryant. I don't even want to watch the game on television. This season, our local cable company has broadcast most of the Blazers games, and I watched the first twenty or twenty-five games in their entirety, but I only caught parts of the next thirty or so games. And I don't think I've seen even a second of the last ten or twelve games. It's over. There is just no way I can become a Trailblazer fan.
Oh, I like the team. I think Brandon Roy has a chance to be the best player in the league. Rudy Fernandez is a joy to watch. And LaMarcus Aldridge will be an all-star if he develops two more post moves and ends his torrid love affair with his jumper. But they aren't my team. They will never be my team. I thought that I could fall in love with them. I did some research on arraigned marriages and discovered that, percentage-wise, they are slightly more successful than traditional marriages. I thought, "Okay, they're not my guys, but I can make them my guys. I can make myself fall in love." Nope, not true at all. I'm a Sonics fan. Moreover, I'm a monogamous Sonics fan. You want to know how loyal I am? I would rather have Earl Watson back in my city, making his stupid passes and hoisting up his ill-fated jumpers and causing random defensive havoc, than travel a few hours to watch a Blazers team that will likely win an NBA championship in the next few years. You want to know how addicted I am? I've been secretly watching Thunder games on my computer and I'm distraught that Watson has been sent to the bench and hasn't played a minute in the last few weeks. I feel like a recovering drug addict falling off his wagon when I'm watching the Thunder. I feel sick and sad. I feel like I'm betraying my city and all Sonics fans. But I can't help myself. I miss my team. I miss my players.
You want to know how devastated I am? I just turned down an offer to buy Blazers playoff tickets. I'm just not interested enough. But even worse, I find that I'm not all that interested in NBA basketball in general. This season, I didn't make a point of watching the eleven o'clock SportsCenter to catch the day's NBA highlights. I haven't watched NBA Coast to Coast once this season. I glance at the box scores in my morning paper but I don't study them. And I've only played the ESPN Draft Machine a few times, usually hoping that the Thunder end up with yet another lame-ass postman, but sometimes dreaming of Durant, Green, and Westbrook teamed up with Blake Griffin. Oh, I still pay close attention to Truehoop but it gets me so jealous to read about other cities and their teams. I read only a few pages of the various Oklahoma City Thunder blogs, but could only scoff at how little they knew about pro basketball. My grief has turned me into a basketball snob. Jesus, I haven't logged onto a Blazers blog in months because I don't have the passion or familiarity with the team to even argue with my fellow fans.
But there's something worse about my inertia. I didn't even have the energy to defend pro basketball during this year's March Madness. As the guys in my health club went crazy for college basketball, as they do every year, I didn't even have the energy to give them crap. I didn't remind them that the Sacramento friggin' Kings would beat North Carolina by sixty points. I didn't remind them that LeBron James would score 123 points against Michigan St.
When one of my friends, a college basketball cultist, said, "I don't think I've watched even a minute of pro basketball in the last six years," I just shrugged my shoulders. In previous years, I would have good-naturedly stuffed him into a dumpster.
It's not that I've become one of those losers who think that college basketball is "more real" than pro basketball. I've just realized that pro basketball is not worth defending. At least, I don't feel like defending it in my present condition.
Of course, I still love all basketball. I love college basketball, too. But this year, I found that my Sonics grief extended into all of my basketball interests. This year, I only watched a handful of tournament games and less than ten regular season college games. I didn't watch any college game in person.
But here is the most personal and shocking aspect of my grief. For the first time in adulthood, I didn't play in any recreational or health club basketball leagues. Oh, I still played rat ball once a week with my friends, but I didn't feel the hunger to put on a uniform and compete against strangers.
I'm sure I'll recover. I'm sure my grief will fade. But right now, I can only quote from the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, "No worst there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,/ More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring./Comforter, where, where is your comforting?/Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?"
So, yes, I'm waiting for comfort. I'm waiting for relief. And as I end this sad little essay, I realize there is only one thing that can make me feel better about professional basketball. I will find much comfort and relief if Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers lose to the Hornets, Rockets, Cavaliers, Magic, Celtics, or anybody else in this year's playoffs.
Many thanks go to Mr. Alexie for sharing his heart with us. It may not be everything Blazer fans (or the organization, for that matter) wanted to hear, but it's the truth. Honestly speaking, I'm almost certain I'd feel similarly were the situations reversed.
If you haven't checked out absolutely everything that Sherman has ever written you are selling yourself way short. Go out and pick up one of each at Powell's and tell them Blazersedge sent you.