First off, it was an absolutely gorgeous night. Warm and sunny. Mild. As good a night as any to wait more than 90 minutes for admittance to the Moda Center.
When I pedaled up to the Rose Quarter (because yes, I ride a bike) there was a large gathering of really well-dressed people from a convention at the Memorial Coliseum. Another group, a little less fancy, was waiting to get into Fright Town. But by far, the largest crowd was dressed in red and black and lined up to see the Trail Blazers.
Actually, I was kind of stunned at how large the crowd was. In the days leading up to Fan Fest, people usually roll their eyes, laugh somewhat derisively, and say "Fan Fest doesn't mean anything."
Be that as it may, almost 14,000 people gathered up the family or rallied some friends to see the Trail Blazers play in a scrimmage that really doesn't mean anything. If anything, that means something.
First impression: Lillard jerseys everywhere. Sure, here and there you saw Matthews, Aldridge, Wallace, Grant, Fernandez . . . but I would guess the Lillards outnumbered all the rest of them combined by about 2:1. Fans are definitely all in for Damian Lillard.
Tons of kids rocking Lillard jerseys were playing in the fountain which was spouting both fire and water tonight. But aside from the flames in the fountain, tonight was not flashy. There was no rockin' band outside and no extended player introductions or embarrass-the-rookie antics inside. A young fan's simple sign summed it up: Yay Sports!
Tonight's Fan Fest got right down to business.
The players took the court to thunderous applause and performed what the announcer explained was their regular warm-up routine. They ran up and down the court in two lines, frontwards, backwards--a little weaving here and there, high knees, skipping, all that warm-up stuff you do in practice. Meyers and Damian each lead a line.
They announced who would be on each team and explained that Kaman and Henderson were not available for the scrimmage. I didn't hear them mention Al-Farouq Aminu who was not there, but in section 211 row E we decided that baby Aminu was probably on her way. (His wife was due a few days ago.)
Here is the roster for the whole team during training camp, including former Oregon State player Omari Johnson.
After a very nice rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, the teams were re-introduced with all the flashing lights and fanfare of a regular season game. Of course, there was no highlight introduction video because most of these guys haven't played any games for the team yet. We did see a nice collection of practice highlights, but let's just say it will be fun to see what the Blazers organization can put together once these guys have played a couple of games in their actual uniforms.
Allen Crabbe was the first on the scoreboard.
This would be a good time to bring up the hair fashion report. Crabbe's summer mohawk has become pretty impressive since we first saw it in Vegas at Summer League. He's gonna get some press on that from around the NBA. Connaughton shed the mullet for a more modest Meyers-esque cut. Damian and CJ's hair was on-point as usual. Kaman was completely bald and mostly clean shaven except for some unfortunate side burns that look like the ones he used to wear when he played for the Clippers. I did not get close enough to see if Meyers Leonard's mustache is back.
The game was, well, fast. With four six-minute quarters, it went by pretty quick. There were some fouls, plenty of turnovers and a very exciting final 5.4 seconds that saw Mo Harkless at the line, shooting 2 free throws to put the White team up by 1. The Black team's final effort to regain the lead was thwarted by a failed lob, leading to a turnover, leading to a missed Mo Harkless dunk. You can get more details about the game itself from Timmay's Fan Fest game recap.
Oh wait, did someone say buckets? Even though Damian played well and won the fan MVP vote, Buckets McCollum was also a strong candidate. I believe he finished with the most points for either team (I was too busy getting a picture of the Hustle Board to remember to snap the final box score).
Other players of note: Ed Davis looked long and capable and Noah Vonleh took some nice shots from LA's favorite spot. Meyers had a rough shooting night and he spent more time on the deck than I would like (I was worried he'd get banged up). But you can tell he's trying to shoot faster. That's probably going to mean more missed shots than we are used to from him, at least early on in the year. But he's a hard worker so hopefully that won't last long. He and Plumlee look like they've been banging against each other pretty hard at practice, lets hope they can continue to bang on opponents as we move into the season.
All in all, it was simply great to be back at the Moda Center. To smell Killer Burger and Sizzle Pie, to see Blaze masterfully move through a line of kids, and hear "Let's go Bla-zers!" from the crowd. Even if Fan Fest "doesn't really mean anything" like people say, it is still the symbolic start of the new Blazer year, and we can now say that the season is upon us.