Three hours after Portland’s thrilling overtime win against Sacramento, a former Blazer took to the floor thousands of miles away to represent the Kings - the Sydney Kings, that is.
In his first game against Melbourne United, the three-time Portland Trail Blazers guard came off the bench, backing up American-turned-Australian Kevin Lisch in an 87–71 win for Sydney.
Wearing a No. 22 purple and gold jersey – similar to the one he wore while playing at Staples Center – Blake and two-time Lakers champion Josh Powell suited up for the Kings.
Near the top of the standings (don’t worry about divisions or conferences, there are only eight National Basketball League teams), the Kings and the injury-plagued United battled closely for three quarters until Sydney pulled away in the last quarter at Melbourne’s Hisense Arena.
Blake spoke to Blazer’s Edge after the game, discussing his decision to play in Australia and acknowledging that the chances of an NBA return are unlikely - unless, of course, he receives a call from Neil Olshey.
“I’ve realized that I won’t be going back (to the NBA) but if Portland wanted me to play I’d definitely consider it,” Blake said.
The 36-year-old said the choice to come to Australia was based on positive reports about the country and the similarity in cultures.
“Sydney was a team that was going to be winning, which was appealing,” Blake said. “I didn’t want to be in a place where I wasn’t able to speak the language.”
During Blake’s 15 minutes on the court against Melbourne, the most-filled stat lines were fouls and rebounds (four each) followed by a sole layup scored at the start of the final quarter – finishing 1-of-6 from the field and 0-for-4 from long range.
Blake’s backcourt comrades, Lisch and Jason Cadee, finished with 30 and 26 points respectively and were the major reasons for the final result. Of the three guards, Blake looked the most out of place, rarely handling the ball and hesitating to shoot. However, he still remained tenacious on the defensive end.
Similar to Evan Turner in Portland, Blake is still adjusting to a new role. This season he is averaging just over 23 minutes (the NBL plays 10-minute quarters), 5.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and two assists per game.
Blake admitted that the different game ball, shorter 3-point line and style of play had resulted in a few teething problems. He also said it made things difficult not having his family around - they’re still back on Oregon - when he had a tough night.
“I’m shooting bad at the moment but I will start making shots,” Blake said. “I know this isn’t a team where I’m filling up the stats, that’s not my role, I’m a guy who comes off the bench and does his job.”
Kings coach and Australian basketball immortal Andrew Gaze (1999 Spurs NBA Championship member) said after the game that he was not concerned with Blake’s numbers, praising him as a strong locker room presence.
“He’s still learning the system, just not making his shots, but he’s not taking bad shots,” Gaze said. “He’s going to get better. He’s bringing a lot to the table, I don’t lose one second of sleep about this because I know it’s just around the corner.”
It is true that Blake has only been in the country two weeks, without a training camp behind him, so it will be curious to see how his fortunes change. For a man like Blake who has played alongside and behind players like Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and Brandon Roy, the only way is up.
For those unfamiliar with the NBL, it’s a league that hit its height in the mid-1990s, packing out 20,000 seat arenas and at times almost rivaling the city’s main sport and religion, Australian Rules football.
Unfortunately, at the turn of the millennium, the sport suffered a serious lull in popularity – something Portland fans might struggle to comprehend with the Blazers perennially the No. 1 ticket in town.
However, in the past five or six years, the game has experienced a resurgence of sorts with a spate of former NBA players making the way south across the equator.
Names like Al Harrington, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick - while not NBA-relevant anymore - have helped prop up the league and motivate Australians to re-introduce themselves to the sport. And with a crop of young players, some of whom are making waves in the NBA at the moment, it’s fair to say Australian basketball is on an upward swing.
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
Want to assist us in sending 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring? Check out Blazer’s Edge Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!