Special Correspondent Arthur Bradford gives us a look from the Moda Center last night as the Portland Trail Blazers pounded the Minnesota Timberwolves, 116-91.
If there's such a thing as tension actually being in the air, tonight's game was a good example of how it feels when that tension is completely absent. Most of us in the Moda Center tonight arrived expecting a nice simple Blazers win. As such the atmosphere was relaxed and happy. Sure this wasn't going to be a close game (fingers crossed), but we were still going to see our Blazers play ball. And the probable rookie of the year, Andrew Wiggins, was in the house too.
My wife was the one who scored us the tickets. She works at a law firm and they have some sweet seats which they offer to clients and other dignitaries. I'd been nagging her all year to get in line for those tickets, but sadly she does not share my enthusiasm for the Trail Blazers. Also, we don't have many friends who actually qualify as "business clients" for a law firm.
"Hey what about Jeff and Katy?" I suggested.
Jeff and Katy are Jefferson Smith and Katy Lesowski Smith, true blood Blazers fans. Jefferson is probably best known as a former member of the Oregon house of representatives and Portland mayoral candidate in 2012. Now he's executive director of Xray FM and my hope was he was enough of a big-shot to merit the free tickets. The good news is he was. The bad news, sort of, was that the tickets were for the Timberwolves, the last place team in the west.
But hey, none of us are complaining, truly. It's awesome to be at the Moda Center any night the Blazers are playing. This guy here knows what I'm talking about:
As the arena began to fill, the Timberwolves took their sweet time forming a lay-up line. The Blazers were running drills and lay-ups for a good five minutes before anyone on the Wolves side tried to organize something. I was particularly interested in seeing the newest Blazer, Tim Frazier, in action. There's no way that dude is 6'1", by the way. Jefferson estimated his height at 5'11", which I would say is about right. But the man can dunk!
Jefferson Smith is a great guy to watch basketball with. He knows his stuff and even wrote an article for Blazersedge back in 2009. As soon as the game began Jefferson launched into a running monologue about the state of the NBA and various statistical theories which I couldn't completely follow. Andrew Wiggins was killing it from the start and somehow this led Jefferson to make the point that Phil Jackson's latest stint running the Knicks "has been a lot like Kitzhaber's third term as governor."
Arron Afflalo hit a nice jumper and this reminded Jefferson of rap lyric by Kendrick Lamar. He looked it up for me on his phone. The song is called Black Boy Fly:
"I used to be jealous of Arron Afflalo
He was the one to follow
He was the only leader
for seeing brighter tomorrows
He would live in the gym
We was living in sorrow"
Apparently Kendrick Lamar, the famous rapper, grew up in Compton with Afflalo and the song recounts his feeling upon seeing him make it in the NBA. This was news to me and I plan to look up the song later.
The Blazers appeared bigger than the T-wolves out there. Wiggins and Zach LaVine in particular looked like young teenagers sharing the court with grown men, which I guess was pretty much the case. As Blazers fans, we come prepared for disaster, but it seemed like tonight things were going to play out as expected. The crowd was into it, letting out loud cheers each time Damian or LaMarcus hit a shot.
During one of the breaks the Blazers dancers did a short routine and Jefferson said, "Don't ask Katy what she thinks of the dancers."
So of course I did. Katy explained that while she does not hate the Blazers dancers, she thinks they could be more a lot more interesting. "If the idea is to be all sexy, why not have some men out there too?"
I had to admit she had a point here. These two attractive gals in front of us turned their heads inquisitively as we were talking about all this and Jefferson and I thought perhaps they had some association with the dancers, or maybe they were dancers themselves. I gratuitously offered that I enjoyed the dancers' routines.
Soon it was halftime and a group of young girls hit the floor to dance. They had all gone to some kind of Blazers dancer camp and were very excited to perform their routine. They did a great job and had a lot of spirit, but I couldn't help think about how things might look if Katy here had her way. Coed! Why not?
Halftime is when I like to wander the hallways looking for interesting Blazers outfits. Tonight I decided to go for family ensembles. It was a good night for that:
Look, twins! With a baby!
This father and son caught my eye because they are both very large, like over 6'4". The son said he was only 15 years old. He's going to play football for Battle Ground High school next year. Look out!
Another father and son:
Blazers fans are lucky, I believe, because we have such excellent colors to choose from. Who doesn't look cool in red, white and black?
I'm going to be honest with you. This was not a competitive basketball game. It was clear from about two minutes in that the Blazers were going to win. Even my wife could tell what was going to happen and she doesn't even know how many points a free throw is worth.
"I want no part of this Blazersedge article," she told me, and would therefore not allow me to take her picture. Jefferson, on the other hand, ran down Blaze the Trail Cat with me and posed for this great shot:
"What the heck is a Trail Cat anyway?" asked Jefferson. But Blaze hurried off without answering. He has a lot of commitments to honor during a game. Jefferson said that Blaze once showed up at a community basketball tournament he organized.
"You should have asked him about that," I said.
We began a long discussion, wondering whether Blaze the Trail Cat is the same person at every appearance. Is Blaze really a person, or just a costume? Or is Blaze neither of those things, and actually a state of mind? Such matters would remain unresolved on this particular evening.
Jefferson suggested we visit his friend DJ O.G. One who plays the music during the breaks in the game. He has a cool booth up in the 200 level and also recently started dj'ing his own show for XRAY FM. Here he is:
This was an interesting night to visit O.G. One because there was an organ player in the house. I'll admit I didn't notice it but my buddy GT who often starts the "Let's Go Blazers!" chants up in the 300 level texted me about it right away. "What's up with the organ starting the cheers? Sounds like a hockey game!"
Usually O.G. One plays more tunes during the course of the game but tonight the organ was filling in the gaps. The general consensus seemed to be that it gave off a hockey vibe. O.G. One said his favorite songs to play at Blazers games are "Time of Our Lives" by Pitbull, "0-100" by Drake, and "I" by Kendrick Lamar. Hey, what about that Afflalo tune?
My favorite fan-made sign of the night: "There's no Tamin' Kaman!"
The fourth quarter of this game was the least competitive fourth quarter of NBA basketball I've ever seen played live. Even so, a good portion of the fans stuck it out and even gave appreciative "Oohs" and "Ahhs" when youngsters Wiggins and Zach LaVine dunked the ball. Those kids can leap!
My wife struck up a conversation with this fellow Dan who is from Albuquerque and was attending his first ever NBA match.
"They're not all like this," I told him.
"I'm having a blast," he said.
Dan told us that he is related to the first ever governor of New Mexico. Welcome to Oregon Dan!
I was excited to see Tim Frazier enter the game with about five minutes to go. He's very quick and was clearly giving it his all, making the most of his NBA minutes despite the blowout nature of the game. As the clock wound down Meyers Leonard dribbled out of the corner and waved Frazier off when he called for the ball. Well look at that, I thought, Meyers Leonard, veteran presence on the floor. Meyers gave the rookie a pat on the back as they left the court.
Then the horn sounded and, well, it was another good night to be a Blazer fan.
Thanks to Arthur as always for the report!