Monday was ‘Playerpalooza’ at the Moda Center, where Season Ticketholders were free to make the Moda Center a personal playground. You could shoot around on the court, stuff yourself at a buffet, and partake in various games and activities along with Blazers players. There was also the opportunity to get an autograph from at least one player at the beginning of the event. Being the schemer that I am, I figured this would be a great opportunity to be able to ask a question or two of a player.
So yeah, what question do you ask, and who do you ask it of? I was in a particular situation here: the players were a bit of a captive audience, but a sea of faces would be crashing against them for a couple hours straight, and things would need to stay moving. So I had to ask a question that could be answered briefly; something light and fun.
The turnout for the event was immense and lines everywhere were long – and players would only be doing autographs for an hour when the doors opened. I had a choice – I could spend all my time in line waiting for a fleeting moment with one of the starters…but when I came upon a relatively short line for ‘The People’s Champ’, Will Barton, I jumped on that.
As the line in front of me shortened, I was trying to figure out what to ask him. My first idea was to ask him if he still plays streetball ever (given his game is often likened to it). But as I was a couple of people away from him, and saw he had a ‘handler’ and several Trailblazers administrative staff around him, I started to doubt my idea – would it make him uncomfortable to answer something like that in front of staff? I mean, he may have a clause in his contract prohibiting streetball? I’ve heard of things like that…Maybe ask him what position he likes best – 1, 2 or 3?
I changed tack at the last minute. I asked him how it was going as I gave him my hat to sign, and I was mildly surprised to find him friendly and warm in his return greeting, considering the thronging madness all around us. (Full disclosure: Portlanders are extremely well behaved in these situations. I’m always impressed at how respectful and orderly that vast majority of people here are when they’re near famous folks.)
Thinking he might be an interesting cultural barometer, I went with "What album do you have on replay right now?" "Future," he responded with his slight Southern inflection, "Beast Mode". He held my gaze, even seeming to invite further interaction. Which again, took me aback a bit, and once again conscious of the people behind me, I thanked him and wished him well, and told him I’d check out the album (which I’m doing as I currently write – actually it’s a self-released mixtape. Definitely has some 'Durty South' going on. Evidently Will is on trend, as it just dropped 2 weeks ago).
Emboldened and still with another 39 minutes until the autograph session ended, I got in line for C.J. McCollum. In case you didn’t know, C.J. has some aspirations to being a sports journalist – writer or broadcaster – and has penned several excellent pieces already for The Players' Tribune. So upon meeting him, I congratulated him on his writing to date and asked, "Who are some of your favorite writers or broadcasters?"
He responded at length, conversationally, like we were old friends: "I like Bill Simmons [sorry, Portland Soccer Moms]. Jalen Rose…You know the Grantland Basketball Hour? Yeah, that’s real good…I like when people really know what they’re talking about when it comes to the NBA. I like people who make me laugh…Charles Barkley...sometimes. You know he’s going to be unfiltered. Reggie Miller. I like Shaq. Yeah, those guys."
Maybe we could be friends…we share similar tastes. Except Reggie Miller. I grew up in New York, so I could take him or leave him. Or more likely, choke him.
I still had time to get in another line, and Joel Freeland’s was the shortest I’d seen it. Again, I was met with an extremely friendly and personable greeting. Of course, first thing I asked was "How’s the shoulder doing?"
With an upbeat and positive note in his voice, he replied, "It’s coming along, slowly. You just have to let it take its time: you can’t rush anything. You have to listen to your body so it can heal properly and be ready to go back at full strength." At this point, I commiserated with him – I too had once partially torn a rotator cuff, and it took FOR-EVER to heal, because I kept pushing it too much too soon. But Joel’s clearly a pro, and knows his business.
Now feeling greedy, I asked him if I could ask one more thing of him – heck, some people definitely took longer getting selfies with the players than I did with my questions – and was met with an unhesitating affirmative. I’m real into travel, so I asked "What’s a place in the U.K. that you would say that I just have to visit?"
"Well, where are you going?" Seriously? Was he going to help me with an itinerary? Even though I don’t have one currently planned? I could not get over how awesome these guys were. I’m open to anything, I told him.
"Well, if you haven’t been to London, you have to go there. It’s the best of everything we’ve got in one spot." Anything more off the beaten track? "The Isle of Wight. Also Cornwall. It’s beautiful down there."
No surprise that a guy from the southern part of England would be partial to that region. And upon consulting the map, right in between the two southern coast places he mentioned is a small island called "Portland". Hmm. Kismet?
Now with time winding down, I checked back on the Wes Matthews line - I knew it would be hopeless, as all of the starters were overrun with people who would never get to the front of their line. But I’m glad I went by when I did: a Blazermaniac took a selfie 20 feet in front of Wes, along with the giant line separating them, all while yelling the following ode over his shoulder: "WESLEY MATTHEWS! YOU THE MAN! MY BABY’S MAMA LOVES YOU! YOU GET MORE LOVE IN MY HOUSE THAN I DO."
To which Wes could only laugh heartily, shake his lowered head and utter, "…I don’t even know what to say to that."
With that settled, I got in line for Victor Claver. I asked him, "If I’m in Spain (he rumpled his right eyebrow quizzically at this point, as if I was going to ask him a math word problem or something), what tapas do I absolutely have to try?"
"Patatas Bravas. That is the most popular one. Jamon Iberico. Croquetas. I would go for those."
If only I had my wits about me, I would’ve pressed for specifically for ones involving sardines and anchovies. If you are not a fan of either of these things (like I wasn’t for 99% of my life), believe me, if you go to the right Tapas place, you will be.
In any event, with 10 minutes left, I saw a short line for Chris Kaman! But alas, they had already cut the line off so the players could leave in a few minutes and get to their stations.
All was not lost – I paired up with a 7-year old and took on Kaman in foosball. He definitely knew his way around a foosball table, and went right after it with the eagerness of a 7-foot 7-year old. I hadn’t played in years and was accordingly poor. So I made sure to do what I was there to do: ask a question that I already knew the answer to.
"You got any plans for the All-Star Break?"
"Hunting. Going out to Eastern Oregon." You been out there before? "Yeah, I went last year near Baker City. It was good."
Then he added, sort of off hand, to his to-do list: "Going to kill a cow. Slice it up, it’ll be about 250 lbs. worth of meat. That will last me a while. I’ll take my time with it, so it should be about 6 months worth."
Awesome. With a new set of kids being ushered in to be schooled by this gentleman masher, Kaman made it a point to bid his most recent opponents farewell. We exchanged an awkward handshake…I first offered a fistbump, while he extended his giant hand for a good ol’ fashioned handshake; then we each did the reverse…yeah. Smooth.
I wandered off…right into a ‘Chalk Talk’ with a small gathering around Coach Terry Stotts. Not really being prepared for this opportunity, I kind of whiffed on my question here, as I went far too vague – "Did the ending of the Super Bowl make you reflect on your position as a coach?" – and accordingly received a vague answer with plenty of coachspeak.
Stotts did conclude with, "I’d love to be the coach to call the play to win the Super Bowl," with a wry smile. "That’s a great opportunity…second guessing is a part of sports these days. It comes with the job."
Luckily, my fellow fans nearby had already asked some pretty good questions – the first was: "You’re known for your out-of-bounds playsdrawing up excellent plays coming out of a timeout. How do you get good at that?"
Stotts replied: "I learned from George Karl. I was an assistant for him for a long time. George was really good at diagramming plays, and honestly, just watching him for all those years…I played for him…and you just kind of pick it up…Also you get a feel for the game, for your players, and what might and might not work for that particular game…I guess that’s what experience is."
Another fan probed a little deeper: "There are times where, say, Thomas Robinson has a real good game, but then doesn’t really play the next game, and his minutes go to, maybe Dorell Wright. How do you figure out who plays from game to game?"
"Thomas had a really good game against Milwaukee here [T-Rob started that one]. That particular game, Milwaukee didn’t have a lot of big guys, and I thought it was a good opportunity for him to have a good game. The next game, the matchups were different. Say, against Washington recently, they have a bunch of bigs clogging the middle, so I want Meyers in there to bang and space the floor…I know it’s difficult for players…sometimes it’s just a feel, and I may be right and I may be wrong…but I think [the bench] has done a good job of taking advantage of opportunities when they’re there."
My opportunities with Stotts had run out, as he was whisked off to the next place he had to be. I decided to check in on ‘the starters’. Huge groups constantly crowded around them just to get a glimpse of their heroes in action. It was what you might imagine if rock stars were present. But maybe if I timed it just right, I’d be able to catch someone on the move…I felt a little creepy skulking about, like paparazzi looking for an opening…
And then that opening presented itself. As Robin Lopez was being hurried off the set of the radio broadcast by an entourage, on his way to dinner and then home, I was able to get a word in. "Hey RoLo," I asked, "what’s a graphic novel or two I should read?"
"What kind of stuff do you like?" he responded, even as one of his handlers tried to brush me off. These Blazers man, they cracked me up. Could they be any more likeable?
"Anything good. What do you like right now?" I spouted as doors opened for him.
"Grant Morrison," he threw over his shoulder, and then disappeared.
Cool. Thanks RoLo. You and your teammates gave me an interesting culture update through your eyes.
So, what Blazer would you ask a question of if you had the chance, and what would it be? Choose your first choice in the poll, but obviously fire away as many questions as you want in the comments! And clearly you’re not bound by any of the limitations I was…
Or share any run-ins you've already had with Blazers!