Blazer’s Edge celebrated its 10th anniversary this summer. In the spirit of Timmay!’s "Greatest [fill-in-the-blank] of the Blazer’s Edge era" posts, I’ve decided to share my story of why I’m still a Blazers fan. Spoiler alert: The answer is Brandon Roy.
I had moved away from Portland during the Jail Blazer era, and often returned around Christmas time to catch a game. Even though I was only attending one or two games a year, I noticed that the atmosphere around the team became …depressing... by the mid-2000s.
My fandom hit a nadir on Jan. 3, 2007 against the Knicks. Before the game I struggled to find anybody willing to attend with me. At the actual game the Blazers absolutely bombed, losing 99-81 to a pretty terrible New York team. The Rose Garden was MAYBE half full (official attendance: 13,071), and it felt like a dozen Knicks fans in my section were outcheering the entire upper bowl.
To make matters worse, any sense of community around the team had vanished. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s it was exciting to be a fan of the Blazers, but by 2006 it was downright embarrassing. Bringing the team up in casual conversation spurred looks of confusion or derision rather than debates about whether or not the infamous Kiki Vandeweghe trade was really worth it.
After that Knicks debacle, I resigned myself to the fact that the Blazermania I had grown up with was gone. As a Pacific Northwest ex-pat I was a bit depressed about this development - I had hoped Blazers fandom would be a bridge back to the community I had left. Instead fandom had become something to hide or abandon.
The following December a friend convinced me to, begrudgingly, attend the Christmas day game against the Sonics. I mentioned the story of the Knicks game but he replied, adamantly, that things had changed and I wouldn’t believe the reaction the team was getting. I was skeptical that any kind of real change could have occurred so quickly.
But when I got on the MAX station at Lloyd Center on Christmas afternoon the train was half full with people in Blazers gear. This was strange - 12 months ago I couldn’t find a single piece of Blazers apparel in all of Lloyd Center.
Then I got to the arena and it was packed. That was easy to write off – holiday games always draw well. Then the pre-game video chronicling the (at the time) 10-game win streak came on and things got louder – again, easy to write off, everyone loves a winner.
And then the starting lineups: compared to previous years, everyone lost their darn minds. Things crescendo’ed with Brandon’s introduction and I was getting chills – this was getting harder to write off as a fluke.
During the game, one play stands out: Brandon was knocked off the court in a coffin corner and fans booed a bit at the non-call. His man ran to double down low as Roy disentangled himself (fans start to buzz) and made it back up and on the court (fans start yelling) just in time to catch a pass from Steve Blake and knock down a corner 3. The whole arena went nuts in a way that I hadn’t heard/seen in years.
It was clear that everyone loved the team, and Brandon specifically. Such reactions have become par for the course in 2016, but at the time the change in atmosphere from December 2006 to December 2007 was jaw-dropping.
I left having no doubt that Brandon Roy had saved the franchise and I still believe it. Brandon had also saved my fandom. I was no longer embarrassed to be a fan and nearly a decade later the team still serves as one of my anchors back to the Pacific Northwest.
One other anecdote: I’ll also remember that they had to turn the volume up on the PA at the next game after Christmas so fans could hear Mark Mason over the cheering. They haven’t turned it back down since.