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Drexler, Lillard, and Grant Light the Fire of Trail Blazers Fandom

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A big sports moment can make a year...or ruin it.

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Sports fans are all too familiar with moments that make us gasp and hold our breath, crossing our fingers and saying our prayers. Sometimes they end in cries of frustration, occasionally in shouts of excitement. The Wide World of Sports used the slogan “The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat” for good reason. For sports fans, there's always a little bit of both. Basketball fans, particularly of the Portland Trail Blazers, know this well.

As a lifelong fan of the sport and the Blazers, I have lots of memories. Today I want to share a few that stand out distinctly .

In 1995, I was 10 years old, which meant I’d been a Blazers fan for approximately 10 years. My bedroom walls were adorned with posters emblazoned with the team’s emblem, photos of the Rose Garden, and one giant, life-sized poster of Clyde Drexler. My mom often talks about my nearly perfect childhood (as in, I was a nearly perfect child), but she always says “Except for age 10. Age 10 was the year from hell,” while groaning loudly and rolling her eyes simultaneously.

There are all kinds of reasons that year could have been a difficult one for me, but I’m pretty sure it’s because when I was 10, Drexler was traded from the Blazers to the Houston Rockets. It’s one of the most vivid memories I have growing up as a Trail Blazers fan. I remember the feelings of betrayal and sadness, being completely broken-hearted when I realized that my favorite player was no longer in Portland. I had seen players come and go before, but it had never really had an impact. This one was a huge blow.

It took me a couple of years to recover from the loss. I toyed with the idea of becoming a Rockets fan while Drexler played for them, and I began to cheer for him when Houston played anyone other than the Blazers. Ultimately I couldn’t bring myself to switch teams. I continued to be a die-hard fan, but it just wasn’t the same without “The Glide”. I didn’t totally lose interest in the team, but I didn't find quite the same joy in watching them play anymore.

Two years later, in 1997, the Trail Blazers signed Brian Grant. I slowly started to recover from the loss of Drexler. I loved Grant’s game and I loved watching him play. It didn’t take long until I was back to cheering loudly with excitement for my team. Losing Drexler and loving Grant helped me understand what it meant to be a fan of a franchise, not just one player.

Flash forward to 2019. I was 33 years old, with young children of my own. The Blazers were playing in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs, in Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The series was charged with high emotion, with Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook at the forefront of the ongoing feud. Portland led the series 3-1.

I was at home in my Southern California living room, with my 6-year-old daughter, clad in black and red pinwheel gear. My 2- and 3-year-old boys repeatedly leaped from the arm of the couch onto the pillows as if it were their own personal jungle gym, then climbed unassumingly into my lap.

The game was intense. Portland could win it and advance to the next round. That thought alone was enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. And it did. My daughter jumped on the couch yelling “Go Blazers GO! Go Blazers GO!”. My boys sensed my stress and climbed into and out of my lap over and over. At one point, my daughter sat down—looking at me sitting on the edge of my seat, then standing and pacing the room while yelling wildly—and said “Mommy, I’m scared.”

Occasionally a game is so intense that you know as it’s happening it will go down as one of the great games in franchise history. I sat on the edge of my couch, my youngest perched on my lap, not entirely sure of what was going on. As the game came down to the end, the last seconds felt like an eternity.

The clock ticked as Damian Lillard got the ball and put up a deep three. I was completely in the moment, somehow forgetting I had a child sitting in my lap! As the basketball soared towards the basket and I leaped off the couch, my 2 year old went flying through the air in a similar motion. Lillard made the famous buzzer beater that won the game and secured advancement to the second round of the playoffs. I managed to keep my son from any serious injuries.

The celebration that happened in my living room that day was one for the books. The kids jumped up and down, I yelled and threw my hands in the air. They started to scream “We win! Blazers win!” I scooped them up in my arms and danced around the room.

In my 30 years of being a Trail Blazers fan, I’ve seen countless memorable players, watched so many game winning plays, and cheered for the team during games I’ll never forget. Those things have shaped me and been a part of the driving force behind being a fan. But the things that stick out the most vividly in my mind aren’t always about the incredible win or the superstar player. The moments I replay, and the memories I cling to, aren’t just about the sport. They’re often about a lesson learned or a memory made with people I love.

How about you? What are your defining memories of Blazers fandom and how did they shape you? Share in the comments.