As with many of you my heart leaped into my throat late in the second quarter of the recent New Orleans-Portland contest as Gerald Wallace slammed himself into a wall of Emeka Okafor and went down to the hardwood dazed. My specific internal reaction was to think, "That figures. Now Portland's going to lose my favorite player."
Then I was like, "Whoa! Rewind for a second. What did I just think? I just said that Gerald Wallace was my favorite player, didn't I? Amazing!"
What's the big deal? A couple things:
1. Over the years my definition of "favorite" has become almost wholly utilitarian. Once upon a time I was unabashedly in love with Clyde Drexler. But he's the last guy I could really call a true "favorite". After a brief struggle trying to make Cliff Robinson my new fave I just gave up and adopted the stance that anybody clearly helping the team win was my favorite guy. Becoming further enmeshed with the team in a media capacity hasn't helped the process. The players are here to play basketball. I like anybody who is good for this team's production and bottom line. Sentimentality isn't a huge deal. The idea of even having a favorite player is odd.
2. Gerald Wallace has had about two cups of coffee with the team. He's new for Pete's sake! It's almost a...bandwagon reaction. That's something I instinctively shy away from. I like evidence. I like a track record. I need Mr. Right to prove himself. I'm definitely not an "eyes meet once across the room" kind of
gal fan. And yet here I am all excited about him checking into the game after a month of play in Portland's uniform.
Even so, the logical part of my brain tells me I'm on pretty safe ground with these feelings. The underlying reasons Wallace appeals to me are consistent with my outlook. He's an amazing fit for this team so far. He brings sorely needed defense. He rebounds. He hits open shots (knock on wood), even threes. He's tough. He battles. He drives instead of just settling. He'll set a pick and scrap for position in the paint. He never quits. What else--anything else--could you ask of him? Even more importantly, he delivers every night. In the name of patiently waiting for youth to grow into full flower Blazer fans have become accustomed to calling once-every-three-games production "good" or "promising". It's also become simple to tell when a guy is having an off night or an on night by watching the two areas in which he usually produces. If he's not playing to his strengths he's not going to contribute. Little, if any, of this applies to Wallace. You know he's going to bring something each game, usually to each shift on the floor. Once he got accustomed to the team he's not had a poor or ineffective game. In part it's because he knows how to contribute when things aren't going his way. If his shot isn't falling he's still going to run down an opposing fast break or grab 7 rebounds. If he can't hit a jumper he's going to drive and he's going to get results with that move. If he's not the main scorer he's going to set somebody up with a pass. He can score 20 but he doesn't have to, nor does his energy lessen when he's not touching the ball. These are exactly the habits Portland's younger "future stars" need to acquire if this team is to move forward. Wallace is my favorite because he hearkens back to a time when the quality of play for this team was great night in and night out. He may not be enough alone to lift the team to that level again but it wouldn't hurt for a little Gerald to rub off on the rest of the roster.
So yeah, I'll admit it. This guy had me from the word "SMASH DUNK IN YOUR FACE!" Well, maybe not exactly that. He had me the moment I noticed how many different ways he was contributing in a new and strange situation and indirectly how much this team missed that style of play. I suppose I'd be as critical as anyone if his tune changed but somehow I don't think it will. Hopefully Gerald Wallace will remain my favorite Blazer for a long time. Even better, maybe a few others will become favorites in exactly the same way. I'm ready.