Former Blazer’s Edge and current Sports Illustrated writer Ben Golliver announced this week that he is heading to the Washington Post to cover the NBA, This seems like a good enough time to chat with Ben about the Blazers’ his memories of covering them, and his new job with The Post.
1. The Washington Post! Did you ever see yourself working there when you started all this? Is it something of a dream come true?
To say that it’s a dream come true or that my head is spinning would be understatements. A few weeks back, my grandmother passed away and I was at her funeral in western Michigan on Tuesday. That night, I flew home to LA. The next day, I flew to DC. That Thursday, I celebrated my birthday with five or six hours of interviews at The Post’s office. Marty Baron—of “Spotlight” fame—and the other high-level editors walked out of their morning meeting about the Attorney General being fired straight into a meeting with… me?
I’m sitting there thinking: “While you guys were protecting our democracy and speaking truth to power, I was comparing Kevin Durant to a baby giraffe on Blogspot before the 2007 NBA Draft.” So, no, NO, NO, there was no way I ever thought this would happen when you first brought me on to Blazer’s Edge. By the way, I flew home that Thursday night and accepted the job the next day. Needless to say, that was one of the most memorable weeks of my life.
Truthfully, writing for SI was my dream job once I figured out that sportswriting could be a real job. (It took a long, long time for me to realize this. Too long.) I grew up reading the Kids version and then the real one and I was pinching myself in 2012 when I started there. After six years, it never got old. I’m already missing SI and I haven’t even officially left yet.
Rewinding for a minute: right after I graduated from college, I moved back to Northwest Portland and, needing some extra money, I wound up delivering The Oregonian as a paperboy. I was waking up at 3 or 4 AM and running up and down all these apartment steps in my neighborhood delivering the papers. Naturally, I’d get exhausted and skip some addresses and then hear from the boss a few days later about the angry complaints. The whole time I was thinking, “Why don’t these people just read this stuff online?” I think you would agree that the digital-only mentality drove everything we were doing as we built up Blazer’s Edge.
That said, I always loved reading newspapers—Dwight Jaynes, Kerry Eggers, and the rest—and as soon as I started at SI I was reminded about the satisfaction that comes from working through a print magazine. I like that The Post exists in the best of both worlds: it has a wide print circulation and a rich history of print writers, but it also has a massive digital/app audience and plenty of ambition online. It feels like a good fit for the many different types of writing that I love to do.
I know this is dragging on, but I should also say that seeing Blazer’s Edge evolve into its current form has been a dream come true too. Imagine if you told us back in 2007 or 2008 that, in 10 years, Casey would be a mainstay at Blazers.com AND Blazer’s Edge would have tons of writers and multiple podcasts, AND Blazer’s Edge would have a major presence on the local TV broadcast, AND there would be multiple Blazer’s Edge alumni writing for major media sites. You and I would have been gobsmacked, right?
2. Rewind back now to the late 2000’s. I don’t think people remember how special an era that was shaping up to be, or what fantastic buzz surrounded the team. What are your most indelible memories from those years?
So many great memories. The one that always jumps out is an interview I did with Greg Oden at the Big Al’s in Vancouver. We were in the birthday party room and he was perched on a tiny chair with his knees practically even with his ears. He had the biggest smile, he was working his way back from injury, and he was thoroughly optimistic about becoming the All-Star he should have been. To me, that symbolized Oden at his best and, of course, the “What could have been?” nature of his career.
I remember doing a quick post-game interview with Brandon Roy about his love of “clutch moments” right when he was first blossoming into a star. Then, a few years later, I remember the Rose Garden shaking after he took down the Mavericks in the playoffs. That night, my computer crashed multiple times because my Twitter was overloading and i could hear the chants on the concourse from the normally quiet media room. Great times.
I always loved the diehard stuff too. I remember the “Team Sergio vs. Team Bayless” debates. Armon Johnson’s Summer League hype. The list goes on and on. There were other explosive moments, like Rich Cho being fired out of nowhere, or the Oden/Zig Ziegler affair, or the Hedo Turkoglu free agency hilarity. Now, I don’t necessarily remember that period being great, or a bummer, or dysfunctional, or any of the feelings that might have popped up at the time. At this point, I just see all those years as an NBA writing PhD program. That time period for me was just 3-4 years of intense learning.
Mechanically, I also remember the routines that drove my life during those years. Battling traffic to get from my day job to the stadium. Transcribing interview after interview following every home game. Driving home, stopping for a drive-thru burger and coming up with my angle for that night. Typing away in the dark and getting tweets from people at 1:30 a.m. asking when the Media Row Report would be posted. Commentators always talk about “the love of the game” and those day-in, day-out memories are what I think about whenever I have writer’s block or am up late writing something these days. Those were my “love of the game” moments.
3. Can you think of a team today with more young promise than Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, et al? Had everybody stayed healthy from the 2006 and 2007 drafts, would the Blazers have won a title?
They were loaded on paper and so, so good when Oden was healthy. It’s difficult and somewhat painful to contemplate their ceiling because dealing with that team was one, long, cyclical bout of, “Is it safe to get your hopes up yet? Nope.” I think that team had title potential and the Blazers/Sonics Western Conference finals rivalry that should have developed is one of the saddest alternate histories in league history.
One thing I’ve thought about, though, is whether that group would have run into trouble once the NBA modernized. Roy loved the slow-down style, Aldridge has been knocked for his mid-range game, and Oden would have run into health issues if he had to play at a high pace, plus he wasn’t exactly a stretch-five. I think that group would have been racing the clock a little bit; they weren’t ideal for pace-and-space. I think they matched up a lot better with the 2012 Heat than the 2015 Warriors.
4. Is Damian Lillard already the greatest Trail Blazer ever? If not, what remains for him to show?
I’d defer to you on this one because my knowledge base starts in the early-1990s and there’s a real Rip City era bias that comes through for people my age. I’d still go with Clyde Drexler over Lillard based on the extended peak the 1990s Blazers had as a team, with the Western Conference finals trips and the two Finals appearances. Lillard, as good as he is individually, just hasn’t been in those situations. There’s a chance he winds up retiring as the greatest Blazer ever if his prime continues for another four years or so, even if Portland never gets over the hump. At some point, record-setting longevity and a close relationship with the fan base can and should overrule Drexler’s superior team success.
5. What one Trail Blazers player lies in your heart...Ben’s Greatest, if you will?
Old school Blazer’s Edge readers will know that Terry Porter occupies that spot. It was such a thrill to run the “Honor Terry Porter” campaign to get his jersey retired and to hear from people all over the globe that loved and appreciated his game and personality.
Drexler also deserves some major love here. In the early Blazer’s Edge days, I remember we were offered an interview with him at 8:30 AM ET as part of a media junket he was doing for a product that he was endorsing. He got on the phone, chipper as ever, and asked where I was calling from. I said, “Portland.” He said, “Isn’t it like 5 AM over there?” I told him, “Clyde, I’m from Oregon. It wouldn’t matter if this call was at midnight or 3 AM or 5 AM, I’m waking up to have the chance to talk to you.” He chuckled and, if I remember correctly, said, “Portland. They’ve always love their basketball in Portland.”
Of the modern guys, it was Roy. To this day, I think people ask me about the “Brandon Roy could cook” post more than they do about everything else I wrote at Blazer’s Edge combined. (Except maybe the Raymond Felton stuff.) I think that speaks to Roy’s ability to reach people and how deeply it affected everyone when the game was taken away from him.