The 90’s was a good time to be a Portland Trail Blazers fan. The glory days. Clyde Drexler, Buck Williams, Kevin Duckworth, Cliff Robinson, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey, Rod Strickland. I was 7 years old in 1992, already fiercely competitive and a die-hard Blazers fan. You could say I was born into It. Most of my family lived in the Portland area and my grandparents were season ticket holders. When I wasn’t at the games, I would watch them at home on TV with my mom and dad while pacing back and forth in the family room, clutching my parent’s referee doll in my hands. It was made with Velcro appendages so that when the refs made a bad call, you could rip off an arm or a leg and throw It at the TV. And I did.
My dad was not only a Trail Blazers fan, but he was a basketball player himself. On countless occasions, he would wake me up before the sun, and I’d tag along with him to the YMCA before school. We would play one-on-one, his 6’2” frame and long arms effortlessly holding the basketball out of my reach. I’d reach for It, leap for It, fight for It, and I’d lose. Every single time. He didn’t make It easy on me. My sense of competition began to build.
As I got older, my love for basketball and the Blazers grew. When I made the basketball team in Junior High, I chose Drexler’s number 22 for my jersey number. My AOL screen name was bsktball22. Most of the girls in my class had started plastering their walls with posters of Rider Strong, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I had a life-size poster of Clyde Drexler. While the other girls collected cassette tapes of New Kids on the Block and Hanson, I danced around my grandparent’s house with “1,2,3 Go Rip City” blasting out of my boom box.
My parents happily encouraged my fandom. Many of my childhood photographs feature Trail Blazers apparel: tee shirts, hats, sweatshirts, occasionally my dad’s old jacket emblazoned with the pinwheel logo across the back.
As time went on, eventually the players that made me fall in love with the game—and with the team—got older too. One by one they started getting traded to other teams or retiring. I cried the day I found out Clyde Drexler had been traded to the Houston Rockets. But I found that It really was much bigger than just my favorite player. Being a Trail Blazers fan had become part of my identity. It didn’t matter if we were winning or if we were losing, It didn’t matter if we had a good reputation at the time or a bad one. This was my team, win or lose.
I went to three different schools during my four years of high school. My family moved twice, making me the new kid two different times. Each time, sports was my way of coping. I spent hours in the gym and worked hard to make the basketball team at each new school, always picking number 22. The last move we made was to a suburb of Los Angeles, home of the Los Angeles Lakers. There really couldn’t be a worse place to move for a Trail Blazer fan. But something about living in enemy territory only fueled my love for the Blazers. I continued to wear my black and red, and I found that I enjoyed the back and forth banter and conversations with other basketball fans, even if they loved the wrong team.
Life continued on, and I found myself with a daughter of my own. She’s 7 years old and I’ve done my best to pass onto her the love for basketball and the Trail Blazers that my parents passed to me. Now she begs to stay up late and watch the games. She sits on the coffee table because the couch is too far away and she can’t take it. Sometimes she stands on the coffee table. She paces the room, jumps up and down, and yells at the TV. She cheers for Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, and CJ McCollum, and if you ask her who her favorite player is, she will tell you “Letter O”. But she will also tell you that she loves them all.
I went to my first Trail Blazers game in 1988 when I was two years old and the Trail Blazers played in Veterans Memorial Colosseum. Attending those games as a kid only fueled my love for the Blazers, and continued to solidify them as “my team”. I knew I wanted to share the same experience with my daughter.
Last year, I took Julisabel to her first Blazers game. I still live in Los Angeles, so instead of the Moda Center, It was at the Staples Center. She wore the same pink Trail Blazers sweatshirt I wore as a kid when I was her age. We had the opportunity to be in the tunnel when the Trail Blazers came onto the court, and to this day she talks about how tall they were and how close she was. She sat through that entire game, surrounded by Clippers fans, cheering her heart out for her Blazers. I watched it become personal for her that day. She felt the energy of the crowd. She screamed “Defense!” at the top of her lungs at all the right times. She pointed out who her favorite players were and asked if she could meet them someday. I watched her love for the Trail Blazers shift that night. No longer was she cheering for my favorite team, she was cheering for her favorite team.
There are a lot of important things I hope to pass on to my kids. I hope they grow up loving people and treating them with kindness. I hope they are passionate and driven and hard workers. But I also hope they love basketball like I always did. Basketball has a way of bringing people together. Strangers celebrate wins, and commiserate over losses, tied together by nothing other than their love for the same team. I’ve heard people say “it’s just a game” but the truth is, it’s so much more than that. Basketball is a way for families to bond, for people to escape life for a minute or cope with difficult things, and for children to learn teamwork and dedication. Basketball is not just a game, and for me the Trail Blazers are not just a team. They represent a lifetime of memories, lessons of heartbreak and loyalty, and a shared future with my children.