A few days ago I had the opportunity to chat briefly with one of the national broadcasters who covers the league. In addition to talking about his job and impressions he came back at me with this:
Portland has always seemed like an interesting city to me. I haven't had the chance to hang out there much but people are just...different...there. On top of that you have the one sport thing and Blazermania. It's a peculiar place. Do you find Portland fans peculiar? What distinguishes them? Or what's the best thing about Portland fans?
I had to think for a minute, trying to find stuff that every person wouldn't say about the hometown folks. I came up with a couple things though.
1. Blazer fandom is like a big community. I knew a guy from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan once. He was funny, had a funny accent, and was fiercely loyal and proud to be a Yooper. People made fun of folks from the U.P. People wondered why anybody would live in a place so cold and snowy. But that didn't matter. When you're a Yooper you just fit. It wouldn't matter if you had never met a person. If you both knew you were from the U.P. you shared a bond. You could tell the same jokes. You probably ate similar food. You endured the same suffering and experienced the same joys. It was such a distinguishing trait that knowing just one Yooper was enough to have the culture make an impression on me. That's kind of like Blazer fandom. When you meet a fellow Blazer fan your relationship starts from a base of common experience: Sam Bowie over Jordan, the Drexler years, the Walton championship if you're old enough, the Jermaine O'Neal trade, 'Sheed and Pippen and Game 7 2000, the Jailblazers, Roy and the new hope, the Oden lottery win. The bond is the same as having cousins who all experienced Aunt Melba's delicious family reunion pies and who learned to stay away from Uncle Harry because he got really nasty when he was drunk. Good or bad, those experiences define you and bring you together. Our family/community culture has grown up around these Blazer events. We are the Yoopers of the NBA. It's impossible to explain fully but once experienced it's just as impossible to ignore. Anyone who has lived in Portland very long has probably felt it whether they became a fan or not. This site is, at least in part, living proof of that effect. Blazer fandom is part culture, part religion, part blood, and part really emotional hobby all wrapped up into one. The fellow faithful, fellow family, fellow hobbyists make the experience more real and more distinct.
2. Blazer fans tend to be the basketball equivalent of "well-read". It's the same kind of knowledge that the kid from Zombieland has. He's been knocked about. The whole world is against him. So he studies the landscape and his enemy and formulates the best way to survive. (Remember this, Greg Oden...Rule #1: Cardio. Oh, and 1999-2000 Blazers? Rule #2: Double Tap.) Portland fans know this team is destined to be something. They also know the team has journeyed long and hard over the last 30 years and hasn't gotten to their destiny. The sense of destiny itself can't be the issue...that's hardwired into Blazer Fan's brain. So it must be something else getting in the way. Thus the intense study, analysis, second- (and third- and fourth-) guessing. What player should we pick up? Which teams are going to provide the greatest challenge? What defense would be best for handling Kobe in the eventual, inevitable WCF matchup? I know other fan bases are smart too, but there's something about that "everything hangs on this" survival-smart that marks a Blazer fan.
3. I didn't get to use this example directly, but I can abbreviate the explanation of the final point by saying that most Blazer fans I know regard things like this as highly as they regard championships.
In the short time I had available, that was my explanation. How did I do? What should I have added? Comment below.
P.S. I've told the story a couple times of getting to meet Maurice Lucas and Bill Walton and shake their hands when I was a kid. I know that link wasn't to a video of a Blazer but you could take that kid's stunned expression, put Walton and Lucas in the frame, and you would have had an exact copy of my stunned visage when I met my heroes. I can understand why professional athletes would want to shed some of the role model burden. But in the end you can't escape moments like that. You can only embrace them and realize that being able to do that may be as significant as anything you do on the field.