The Portland Trail Blazers lost Game 4 of their Western Conference Finals series to the Golden State Warriors last night, bowing out of the 2019 NBA Playoffs after being swept by the World Champions. The end of the series, and the 2018-19 season, came quickly, just a week after Portland reached the optimistic heights of the third round for the first time since 2000.
The rollercoaster playoffs ride was equal parts exhilarating and heartbreaking for Blazers fans, many of whom had not seen the team play this deep into the post-season. Among those was my son, Baby Point Guard...baby no longer, all of 11 years old, but still too young to remember Rasheed Wallace, let alone Clyde Drexler, as anything more than cool guys to draft in NBA2K.
This year, for the first time, my son sat beside me every minute of every playoffs game. “The Shot” against Oklahoma City and Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets were his first brush with playoffs feel-good stories. A sweep punctuated by three games in which his team led by 15 was an emotional way to end it. Defeat is doubly hard when it comes among 5th-Grade front-runners who have been “Warriors fans for life” and swear that Golden State rules while Portland sucks now and forever.
For those who might be mourning the loss in the hours after, I thought I’d share with you words I said to my son tonight. This wasn’t to make losing feel better—it never does—but to put it in perspective.
Here you go.
Professional athletes have to worry about wins and losses. They’re paid big money to do so. Wins are the only thing that counts in the playoffs. The minute a professional athlete makes anything else more important, their team starts to fall apart.
Every player who took the court in this series would rather have won. There’s nothing else they wanted more. Never doubt that.
But even for professional athletes, other things matter too.
And you and I are not professional athletes.
You and I get to worry about other things just as much as winning. Winning is more fun, but it’s not the only fun thing about sports. We get to enjoy the game together, talk about it, sit next to each other on the couch and dream about what could happen. We get to laugh and cry and be amazed, second by second.
The most important and wonderful thing about basketball is that we get to do this together. Nothing will ever take that away.
I can’t promise you that the Blazers will always win. Sometimes it’s not possible. Life doesn’t always give us what we want, even when we want it pretty badly. But you never need to worry if you’re weird for caring about it that much. You don’t have to worry if you’re alone when you feel crazy happy about a win or super sad about a loss. You have someone who, in their own way, feels just like you. There are lots of us, actually. And even when the Blazers don’t win it all, we can still talk about it and dream of wonderful things together. We can learn and share our thoughts together too.
Watching the Blazers might make you feel really great. Sometimes it can make you feel really bummed. But no matter what, you’ll never be alone.
It’s far better to laugh honestly and cheer loudly—also to cry real tears and admit disappointment—than it is to cover all those things up trying to seem cool or smart or strong. Even though we always want our team to win, we actually learn more about life by caring about a team that sometimes wins and sometimes loses.
Some people jump all around, trying to only care about the most winning team. That’s fine, but they’ll never know what it is to be super disappointed because you invested your whole heart into something that didn’t quite work out, only to look up and find that somebody cares about you and all the things you care about, win or lose.
Winning is its own reward, and it’s a great one! But the moment you find out that this is real and worth something is the exact moment when you don’t win. That’s when you find that all the important parts—togetherness, hope, and hugs between family, friends, and teammates—are still there anyway.
Maybe you’ll care about this team your whole life. Maybe you’ll find other things to care about more. Either one is OK. All I know is that as long as you care, I’ll care...not because I care so much about the Blazers, but because I care about you. You won’t go through a single loss without me saying I wish they won instead. You won’t experience a single win without me smiling for you in happiness.
That kind of togetherness can’t be bought with a contract and doesn’t show up on a scoreboard. It’s the kind that really makes sports—and all the things like it in life—worthwhile.
Most of the time when a sports team loses, people say, “Wait ‘til next year!” I don’t know what next year will bring, but you don’t have to wait! Everything that’s best about following a team, we still have. It’s here with us, between us, and it’ll never leave. It’s big enough for more than just us, too. The whole world could fit if they want to. Not everybody will, because some people are Pacers fans or Warriors fans. That’s OK. They have their own togetherness too. So do we. It feels different than it would have felt if our team had won, but it’s no less special and no less enduring.
You know, that kind of relationship isn’t just confined to parents and children. It’s big enough and real enough to encompass all the folks who root for a team.
I hope everybody had a great season. We made plenty of stories and had plenty of good times together. Now we’ll go on to the NBA Draft, to free agency, and beyond!
Thank you to all our readers and participants. When next you hear from me (tomorrow!) we’ll be talking about a couple ways forward that could make this team even better. Until then, as Frodo Baggins said to Samwise Gamgee, “I’m glad you’re here with me, at the end of a playoffs sweep. The stupid rings are going to belong to the Warriors or Bucks now, Sam. That means we can have a microbrew and head to the coast! Which, you know, is pretty good too.”
Blessings as we walk together through the off-season!