Last week I walked into a target, with my Trail Blazers mask across my face, per the current rules. As I waited in line with my purchases, I noticed the man behind me wearing a Lakers mask. When It was my turn to check out, the cashier looked at my mask and said, “You’re a Blazers fan? But.... how?” I explained that I had always been a fan. He replied with a smirk and said, “You guys don’t really have anyone this year except that Lillard guy, right?”
This is what it’s like to be a Trail Blazers fan living in Los Angeles. It sometimes seems that there are two types of people in this world. Lakers fans, and everyone else.
The summer before my junior year of high school, my Trail Blazer loving family moved from Southern Oregon to Southern California...specifically, Los Angeles county, home of the Lakers. It didn’t take long before I started to realize I was in enemy territory and completely surrounded by purple and gold. I knew other Blazers fans were out there, but I could barely even find a Clippers fan.
With any fanbase, there are people who are passionate and wild, people who know their team and really follow It, and people who call themselves fans but really don’t follow the sport. With that in mind, I’ve noticed some differences in Laker fans and Blazer fans.
There are a lot of bandwagon fans in Los Angeles. Many fans I've talked to don’t really know a whole lot about the team. They may have some basic knowledge, but often these fans can’t even name the team’s starting lineup. When your team wins as much as the Lakers do, fans like this are going to be part of your fanbase.
Lakers fans are used to winning, It’s been a long time since the Lakers weren’t a winning franchise. People like to win, so when a team is winning a lot, it makes sense that fans will jump on board and ride that wave. Their fans don’t like to lose. No one does, but Laker fans seem to take It as a devastating personal blow. If the Lakers lose, it’s best you just keep walking and don't look them right in the eye, especially if you’re wearing a black and red jersey.
Trail Blazer fans have endured plenty of disappointment over the years. The team has made a playoff run more than once, and even made It to the Western Conference finals last year, but only one trophy is in our team’s history, and It was all the way back in 1977. It’s been a while. I haven’t seen a lot of Bandwagon Portland fans over the years. Portland fans are extremely loyal, they don’t jump ship when things aren’t going their way,
Portland has had it’s share of solid talent, notably Clyde Drexler and Damian Lillard. The franchise is good at creating an ensemble team, with solid talent across the board. Walking into the Moda Center, you’ll be met with an assortment of jerseys. Many of the players names, often even support players, are emblazoned across the back of jerseys and tee shirts.
In the Staples center, there is a sea of Kobe Bryant, Anthony Davis and LeBron James jerseys. The Lakers are used to superstars. From Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard and Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers have consistently had superstar talent on their roster.
There’s something special about being a Trail Blazers fan. Even though the team isn’t always full of “superstars”, and even though they haven’t won a championship since the 70’s, Trail Blazers fans are perpetually positive about the team’s ability to do so. There’s a special camaraderie amongst Trail Blazers fans that I don’t often see in other fanbases. The Moda Center is known to be one of the loudest stadiums in the NBA.
Last winter, I went to my first game of my adult life—at the Staples Center. I wore a black shirt with the words “Rose Garden Raised” across the front. During the shoot around, I noticed a large group of fans clad in Trail Blazers gear. They were right by the court, and they were loud. After the game, I had a request on social media from a group called “Blazer Fans LA”. They’d noticed my shirt and tracked me down. I joined them for their next watch party, and I knew I’d found my people. In a city riddled with Lakers fans, finding a group of people who share my passion for the Trail Blazers could have been nearly impossible. But thankfully, they found me.
That’s how it is. In L.A., fans gather around the edges of the experience for as long as it remains fun. In Portland, fans are central to the experience and the commitment is for life.