Today's Mailbag includes a potluck of more unusual questions. Enjoy!
Now that you're years into what I have to believe is a very intense and long-term study of the Blazers, how has it changed you as a basketball fan?
Let me use a Dungeons and Dragons metaphor. "Back in the day" (at least my day and maybe yours), everyone's first D&D experience was "The Keep on the Borderlands." It came in every starter book and everybody at some point went to the keep to hear "Give me your name and state your business!" and eventually fight the minotaur. People played and loved D&D for many years and groomed their characters to high levels and great feats... but there's always something special about that first game when plain swords and basic armor were all you had and every single hit carried with it the threat of demise for your fledgling PC. (Or, if you like, the very first time you read The Hobbit or any of a hundred other things.)
There are a number of things in which I regard myself as an "expert." Looking back, becoming an expert meant my opinions changed and I, myself changed. It changed how I look at the subject, how I enjoy the subject, and how I interact with other people about the subject.
So to press the point, are there "eras of Dave" in regards to Blazer basketball? Do you still find enjoyment in discussing issues with the casual fan even when you may have heard it a hundred times before? Do you become weary now over certain issues? Do other issues still inflame you with the same irrational passions that many fans exhibit? I'm very interested in hearing your perspective on your own journey in Blazers Edge and what it has done to and for you.
OK, I'll admit it. I picked your question because I totally geeked out over "Keep in the Borderlands". B2! The module that you loved at first but eventually made you ask, "Why are these bugbears living next to goblins living next to orcs living next to skeletons and clerics all in the same condo complex? How does that ecosystem work? Do they have public transportation? Do the kobolds have any representation on the Neighborhood Association board? Are there summer concerts in the dell with neo-otyugh music and slow-roasted people pie?" As it turns out, B1, "Palace of the Silver Princess", was a superior adventure anyway. But then you had to convert both of them to AD&D rules... (sigh) I miss those days.
So...the progression of Dave, huh? As most know, I was a little kid when the Blazers won the title. That grafted me to the team for life. I'm still waiting for it to happen again so I can die in peace. That put me just at the perfect age to love some Grant High School State Champion basketball teams and then the fantastic Drexler era.
I'd say that Clyde's teams were the height of my innocent fandom. Me and my friends were at the Hillsboro Airport when the team arrived after clinching the Finals berth. I remember being crushed by the loss to the Pistons and thinking Danny Young's shot should have counted no matter what the clock said. I remember saying a couple years later as Portland prepared to face the Bulls, "Who is Scottie Pippen really? He's just their version of Jerome Kersey, only not as good."
Yeah. I said that. Out loud.
I also remember wondering why the Blazers didn't just draft Dwayne Shintzius or later Yinka Dare (may both rest in peace) since they needed a big man so bad. Fortunately my utterances back then were confined to a few friends and not the World-Wide Web. So yeah, when people say Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson are for sure the next big things, I totally get it. Been there, thought that. Have the Robert Pack t-shirt to prove it.
I started getting broader perspective through internet message boards and then in a fantastic e-mail group. I heard the opinions of other passionate folks, offered my own. That's where I learned how to listen, test the wind, formulate thoughts. Eventually we got a couple media-types into that group, one of whom was the lead Blazers blogger at OregonLive, Eric Marentette. He was a great, great guy who eventually went to work for Kobe Bryant. (Ugh!) While he was off on assignment somewhere he had me fill in for him at OregonLive, which gave me the bug. I started my own site just offering up daily opinions. A few months later Casey Holdahl moved from Blazer's Edge to replace Eric at O-Live and turned over the reins here to me. The rest is history.
As my audience grew it became apparent that I'd never make it on just opinions and my gut. I had to understand how things worked. I suppose to the extent I am an "expert", this is where it developed. I began to understand that things aren't just random...cause and effect come into play even in the NBA. I held to the tenet that people aren't crazy or stupid either...that decisions are made from a certain point of view. My job is mostly to figure out that point of view and compare it with the rest of reality to see how it matches up (or doesn't). Most of all, I figured out that the Blazers aren't different just because they're the Blazers. A good or bad move in Minnesota doesn't become the opposite when Portland makes it. From those foundations, plus a commitment to share the truth as I perceive it, came the "Dave" you experience today.
I suppose you could argue that I'm less of a fan than I once was in the sense that I'd not argue that Jerome Kersey is superior to Scottie Pippen anymore. On the other hand, you could argue that delving so deeply into the subject for so long (and probably seeing things more clearly now) means I'm more of a fan than I'd ever imagined.
When trying to define terms, the main question for me is, "What are you a fan of?" If one needs to believe that the Blazers will win 55 games and crack the second round (if not the Conference Finals) this year in order to love the team, well, that's falling in love with a fantasy instead of the real thing, right? If Lopez and Robinson have to be the next big things or I'm not inspired the same way then I'm not really in love with the team or those players, rather my image of what I'd like them to be. I'd argue that the guy who knows the Blazers will probably win 38-40 games, that Lopez will be OK but not revolutionary, and that Robinson might not pan out at all but still loves and follows and spends every day thinking about the team could be deemed more of a fan than the other. Loving something as-is instead of how you want it to be is always harder. In that sense I'm more of a fan now than I ever was. More information and insight have only deepened that fandom, even if that information and insight haven't always been deemed positive relative to the dreams of the masses.
As far as finding enjoyment in discussing the team with people even though I've heard it a thousand times before, the answer is yes...every day. Another strong, bedrock tenet of mine is that Blazer fans are among the smartest around. The internet has closed the gap for all of us but there's still something special about Portland Trail Blazer folks. I believe in the supporters of this team. I believe that I write for one of the best and smartest sports audiences in existence. Every day, every post I look forward to reading the comments. Sometimes I get enthused and other times disappointed, but that's the nature of the beast.
Do I become weary over certain issues? Not really. As long as the questions are honest, I'm happy talking any Trail Blazers subject all day. The innocent passion you referred to earlier doesn't make me tired or annoyed. It's great to see, experience, discuss. The world can't have enough of that, in my opinion.
If anything makes me weary it's the leeching of the insidious, toxic cultural terms of engagement into sports discussion. Having to put someone else down, label and denigrate them, in order to uplift your own passion or point of view is both silly and tiring. Killing the messenger, attacking people instead of discussing points of view...we've learned to resolve conflict this way, drawing our circles smaller and smaller until we are surrounded only by people who agree with us and don't have to hear anyone else. Not only is that a bad practice in general--guaranteed to leave one mired in one's own ignorance--it's death for a community. Since the best part about Blazer fandom is the community it creates, I see such practices as self-destructive.
The guy who says, "I think Thomas Robinson is the best thing ever!" I seldom argue with. I hope he turns out to be! Could happen, I suppose. The guy who says, "I think Thomas Robinson is the best thing ever and the rest of you are irrational, agenda-driven haters with no grounding in reality who are just offering random opinions and really need to shut up now" isn't showing as much about T-Rob as he is about himself. Passion that has to knife everything else around it in order to live isn't innocent anymore. It isn't really passion, even. It's fear and insecurity masquerading as (false) surety. THAT gets tiring quickly and the world needs less of it...especially since people who engage in those practices never really turn out to be correct no matter how loud or strong or persuasive they sound in the moment. I suspect that knowing (or at least fearing) you're not correct in the first place, that you're on unstable ground, causes folks to lash out loudly as a cover up. That cover up is often mistaken as passion, but they're two different things. That's a lesson I wish people would learn. But it's less a Blazer-specific lesson than a life-lesson, and thus harder to apprehend or teach.
What issues still inflame me with passion, assertions which some would no doubt term "belief" instead of analysis? I suppose there are a couple. The Blazers would have won another title at least if Bill Walton's foot hadn't gone south. You'll not be able to convince me otherwise, Washington and Seattle be damned. The Roy-Oden-Aldridge incarnation of the Blazers was going to be very, very good and a perpetual title threat for years. Even if they didn't win as many titles as San Antonio they'd have been the heir apparent to that level of constant contention. Fouling out Clyde in the NBA Finals versus the Bulls was a crock. Tossing Rasheed against the Lakers was quite unusual and almost certainly a bad move. After all the jawing that Michael Jordan got to do at refs you toss a team's #1 star for a look? Really? And while the refs didn't decide the '00 Blazers-Lakers Western Conference Finals they really, really did screw the Kings in 2002. And the Jazz in 2012-13.
And finally, I'm really, really passionate about this site, naturally. I can't believe where it's gone and continues to go thanks to the hard work of the folks who write here and the readers who share comments, Fanposts, and Mailbag questions. It's really pretty amazing, beyond my dreams when I started. It's hard to get cynical about anything with such a vibrant community churning every day.
In five years, who do you more want to run into at a coffee shop and catch up with...Luke Babbitt or Shavlik Randolph?
Luke. Ben and Shav can be at another table.
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Per game or per minute?
If you were to give one piece of advice to aspiring bloggers about increasing readership quickly what would it be? What's the best shortcut to success?
Write about the Lakers or embed porn. (Choose the porn. It's the higher moral ground of the two.) Other than that, the only way I know is the old-fashioned way: one post at a time, as honest and truthful in each one as possible, and don't worry about attracting readers as much as putting out a great product.
Keep those questions coming to the e-mail address below, marked "Mailbag" if you would!