Let's take some time away from the super-intense Summer League schedule to answer a few fan-centered Mailbag questions. These are more or less popular-opinion topics with no better or worse answer to them. Feel free to chime in with your own responses to them in the comment section!
Which Blazer would be coolest to hang out with? If you could spend an afternoon with a player who'd you choose?
Honestly I have a hard time answering this anymore. Ben's our man in the trenches. He's spent far more time with Portland's players than I have. But the last 9 years have brought more opportunities than I first dreamed. I've met, talked with, and/or interviewed Trail Blazers, current and former. Two things have struck me:
1. These guys are people, and that's OK.
2. What people say when a microphone or camera gets put in front of their face doesn't necessarily equate to what people say when just hanging out. In essence, the public face players put forward is part of their job. That doesn't mean they're dishonest. Some are open, others less so. Either way, for me such a rendezvous might be a casual, wonderful experience but for the player it would be an afternoon spent doing his job...putting that public, "talking to strangers who are going to judge you" face on. Without years of relationship between us there's no way I could approach him as anything other than a cool Blazers player and there's no way he could approach me as a person who expects him to be on duty as such even when not on the court. That being true, we couldn't really "hang out".
As I've come to understand this as a fan and as a member of the media, I've transitioned from wishing I could be closer to the players (or wishing to know more about them) to a few simple wishes I have for them.
I wish every Trail Blazers player as much success as possible on the floor...up to the exact moment he joins the Los Angeles Lakers. (OK, fine. I wish them professional success even then.) This is their career, with few exceptions the thing that will define them most sharply in their lifetime. You only get one shot at life. I hope it goes very, very well for them.
To the extent that they do show that public face (and it is part of the job) I hope they are able to do it well enough to pass muster. Mostly that means not embarrassing themselves or calling negative attention to the franchise through selfish behavior. Those who excel at public relations can bask in the camera lights. For everybody else, I mostly wish peace and the freedom to pursue what makes them happy outside of the public eye.
To that end, I wish players occasional sanctuary from prying eyes, camera phones, and people who want to know more about them. I hope they're able to be real with somebody. Facades are hard to live with when you never emerge from behind them.
Unless it emerges in a public way due to the inattention of the player himself, I'm perfectly fine not knowing who's a nice guy and who's not. I'm fine not knowing about people's personal habits even if I'd perceive them as detrimental. Who am I to judge "nice" or "appropriate" unless I have walked in that person's shoes? If you're impacting other people negatively and it becomes widely known, that's different. Otherwise the only appropriate conversation and judgment is on the public persona...actual play on the court.
I'd be happy and honored to spend time with any of Portland's players, but I'd rather wish them a quiet afternoon with their family or friends, doing something that would make them happy. I'd probably do the same. Then the player and I could see each other in the Moda Center at the next Blazers game and have the relationship that we were meant to have.
Put yourself on one Blazer team in history. Which one would you like to be a part of?
Man, I feel like I have to qualify this one too. I wouldn't feel comfortable speculating about taking the spot of a guy who had actually earned it and devoted his life to it. What have I done to merit taking the floor in an NBA game? What have I sacrificed? How many hours have I spent working on the craft? How could I even begin to look those players in the eye sitting next to them on the bench? Even a cursory look at Summer League and the mass of players trying to make the league just for a moment should make any of us feel semi-guilty for talking about bumping one out for our own joyride.
If you created a magical 16th spot that only I could have, though, I'd want to head back to the '90-'92 Blazers and sit on the bench with Clyde, Terry, Buck, Jerome, and the rest. That era still ranks first in sustained success for the franchise. Plus those guys had so many thrilling outings.
I could totally understand people picking other teams, but that squad hits my sweet spot.
If you could change any event in our history, what would it be?
The Greg Oden and Brandon Roy injuries. Bill Walton going down or Cliff Robinson dropping the ball in '91 are tempting targets, but having Roy and Oden healthy would have ushered in a long, long era of prosperity around here. We got a glimpse of the Walton and Drexler Blazers. We didn't even get to see the promise of the 2006-2010 rosters.
Sometimes you refer to yourself as a fan and sometimes as a media member. Which are you? Or which do you identify most with?
Both, and unabashedly so.
The world has changed. Traditional media members do radio, make predictions, call themselves experts alongside the people they interview. For better or worse they've become more populist in an attempt to seem more relevant. Fans, on the other hand, are both better informed and more involved, not letting anything pass as "news" until they feel a part of it and have given it their stamp of approval. The line between the two camps has never been closer than it is right now.
I've evolved over the years, as have many Blazer's Edge readers. That's the point of the site. We observe, we converse, we grow. I'm neither the same fan nor the same media person I was when I started.
Along the way I hope I've developed the wisdom to see and adopt the best aspects of each world. From the media side I try to draw a sense of responsibility to something bigger than myself, adherence to truth and honesty, reasonable research, proper attribution, a polished public voice, and respect for the sport and the craft of writing about it. From the fan side I've tried to maintain a connection to community, a passion for and appreciation of the team beyond just wins and losses, and the realization that all of this--sports, writing, even media--is about people. We need detached abstraction to keep us honest but we shouldn't forget that everything we do boils down to relationships. If we're not reaching people, giving them something relevant and meaningful, then it doesn't matter how technically proficient we are or how highly we think of ourselves.
The overwhelming popularity of Blazer's Edge testifies that we're probably doing OK with this, but even more than this I point to the conversation that surrounds the site and how it transforms the environment. The discussion stemming from the site--your comments, our pieces, Fanposts and Fanshots, analysis of other people's work, interviewing and being interviewed--helps bridge the divisions that used to define "media" and "fan". We've grown together to the point that I expect to discover as much about a topic reading a Blazer's Edge comment thread as I do reading the work of media experts. I also expect to find enthusiasm for the work of those media folks, crediting and building on their work instead of passively consuming or trying to supplant it. The synergy here is special and it's made us all better.
Some media folks use the words "Fan Site" as a pejorative (often when trying to avoid crediting the work we do and/or trying to explain away our popularity). Some fans use the word "Media" the same way (often when trying to avoid uncomfortable truths). I don't buy into either of those concepts personally. You can find fault with either approach, but why would anyone waste the opportunity to combine the best of both worlds?
Keep firing those Mailbag questions to the address below! Adopt today's Mailbag as your own, too. Which Blazer roster would you most like to be a part of, which player would you love to hang out with, and which event in franchise history would you most like to change?
Want more? Check out the weekly appearance on the Phil Naessens Show here:
--Dave (firstname.lastname@example.org) / @DaveDeckard