In the context of general mailbaggery I get asked certain questions over and over. Sometimes I skip over the repeats, sometimes I answer them anyway, sometimes I send a link to the last time I answered them. One of the deeper, more personal questions I get asked--a question that's worth re-visiting often--is for my most significant memories as a near-lifelong Blazer fan. I was asked this again recently. Since it's a bigger philosophical/historical subject for me than can fit in the context of a normal mailbag (as I'm sure it is for you and your memories) I'll answer here.
Note that while the question is often couched in terms of "favorite" Blazer memories I'm going to take the liberty of using the "significant" modifier instead, as I believe that says more about me and maybe about the team's history as well.
Most people expect that I'd put the Blazers' sole championship at the top of my personal significance list. It would certainly be on top of that "favorite" list. But while the title was the glorious beginning of my fan formation as well as being my favorite single memory, it probably wasn't the most significant in informing my fandom. The truth is, I was just a kid at the time. The championship kindled my heart, but being a fan is much more than emotion for me. I suppose you could say the title provided all of the raw material for my fan sculpture but very little of that sculpture's final form was shaped in that moment...perhaps a base, not much more. Certainly the fan I was then and the fan I have now have little outward correlation to each other. I do expect that another title will tap that innocent childhood memory in me, probably leading to tears and unbridled joy and feeling just once more than everything is completely right with the world, but that hasn't happened yet. (Please, please, please? At least once before I die?) As it is, meeting and getting to shake the hands of Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas probably left as big of an imprint (and gave me as big of a thrill) as the championship itself.
The loss to Detroit in the 1990 Finals and to L.A. in the 1991 Conference Finals were much more significant to my fan growth. At that time I was on the cusp of adulthood and followed the team pretty closely. Some rationality became coupled with the raw emotion, although rational thought did tend to disappear once the ball was tipped. I was sure we were going to win both series after significant comeback victories. I was in massive denial after the resulting losses but gradually that denial gave way to a desire to figure out what the heck happened. The multi-layered answers to that question, coupled with the memory of what it took to actually win way back when, provided the bulk of the definition to that fan sculpture. Those series, comprising my virginal encounter with Massive Disappointment, also softened the later blows of losing to Chicago in '92 and losing in the Western Conference Finals to the L*kers in 2000. The latter loss has since become a defining moment to a generation but the wounds it caused to me were the removal of old scabs more than the creation of new cuts. Plus by then I could already smell some of the toxins brewing in the Portland Punch and already knew that even with a title, that squad would have been my second-favorite championship team.
Trading away Clyde Drexler was another significant moment in my fanhood. I couldn't believe my ears when I heard Clyde say on the radio that maybe a trade wouldn't be the worst thing. I once again went into fetal denial when the move went down. It was the loss of my greatest, and probably last, pure sports hero. Afterwards I had to deal with the reality of Otis Thorpe not filling Clyde's shoes and then J.R. Rider taking a massive dump in them. I began to understand that you couldn't just replace superstars. I began to understand rebuilding (and then building again and again) and what it took to actually form a good team. I began to understand that not every guy who looked good was good and not every guy who was good would actually fit on your squad. I found that this was a game of choices and it was nearly impossible to find one that was wholly right. I also found it possible to be happy for Clyde when he did win his championship with the Rockets, though it rightfully should have been ours...or so my heart says to this day. Most of all, I discovered that all of this was difficult and far more complex than it seemed.
So far all of the significant memories save the championship have been depressing. But the education learned in relative darkness and heartache after that early, brilliant success brings definition to the whole. I found this out the first time I saw Brandon Roy play in person at the 2006 Summer League. Those hard-earned lessons informed me that I was seeing something special...someone whose play and stature might hearken back to the championship season or the glory of the Drexler years. Roy was nothing like Walton or Clyde but I knew he didn't have to be. What I was already seeing on the court told me that one day he might be capable of becoming a third entrant in that pantheon. I looked at LaMarcus Aldridge beside him and understood that while LMA probably wasn't in that same circle, he could maybe be the Lucas-Porter-esque wingman that was essential to success. At that point my heart started to beat a little faster.
Winning the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery was a surreal experience more than a formative one but even so that past experience spoke of how important such a talent could be. My fast-beating heart went into overdrive at that point! That night, even more than the draft itself or anything that's happened to Oden since, also remains indelibly imprinted on my mind.
I've also had some moments of personal significance...the first time sitting down with Kevin Pritchard or Nate McMillan one-on-one, for instance. My first real at-length interview with a player, who happened to be Taurean Green, also sticks out. Those were less significant than amazing, I'd say, but I suppose they still count.
Those are the ones I can think of off-hand. There are a thousand more, of course, but I'll make room for you and yours. What are your most significant memories? Keep in mind the following:
- We're sticking with "significant" and not just "favorite", so they can be uplifting, tragic, or anything in between as long as they formed your fan faith.
- We're talking about significance to you here, not anybody else. Among your most significant moments may be mundane occurrences that others would barely blink at or even some that only you experienced.
If you have some idea of how those moments shaped your fandom and what that final shape looks like (what kind of fan you are) go ahead and share that too.