It was a little more subdued this year because we’re all walking through the mature stages of the pandemic, but Blazer’s Edge Night, 2022 still featured 1753 youth and chaperones watching the Portland Trail Blazers play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night. I was in attendance, with participants around and above, so I thought I’d share some reflections from the event.
First, let’s talk about the basketball.
It’s generally true that teams look better in person than they do on TV. The camera limits what you can see, presenting the action from a certain angle with defined biases. With your eyes able to roam the whole floor at all times in-arena, you can see screens, off-ball defense, and the subtle permutations of the game.
This year, the “always look better in person” mantra was somewhat less true. Instead of being able to focus on the scoring and forget, you noticed right away that the Blazers aren’t experienced with each other or the NBA. They cluster in the same area of the floor, or they’ll set the offense with three players in a direct, vertical line from the baseline, making passing all but impossible. It’s not intentional. It’s a byproduct of the active roster. Sometimes it seems like Ben McLemore is over here trying to set up for a play and the whole rest of the roster is going, “Buh?”
There was plenty of goodness too, though. Drew Eubanks was the real standout. Not only was he in the right position, he brought energy and passion to the sets. Forget his production; he won’t get gaudy stats when the team is fully-populated. Ask me who I want coming off the bench or filling in during an emergency, and it’s Eubanks. I could see him becoming one of those cult favorites who sticks around way longer than he should and eventually becomes an assistant coach.
We didn’t get to see Trendon Watford on Monday night, but he’s the other strong candidate for long-term service, obviously.
Now let’s move to the crowd. There was a fair amount of passion in the arena, in general. Everybody cheered when good things happened for the Blazers, even if they seemed resigned to those good times not lasting long. But the cheers were loudest among the upper-bowl sections where we all were seated.
I want to relay the story of a group seated near me. I didn’t know who they were. Still don’t. Just that, by the 2-to-12 adult/youth ratio, they were obviously one of our groups.
They started the game a little subdued, almost as if they didn’t know whether they should be there. Let’s face it, the players and teams that night were pretty obscure. They got into the obvious moments, but the start was slow.
Things started cranking up around halftime, when everybody got to talk about the action. Sharing impressions seemed to spice up enthusiasm for the second half. Everybody knew what the others were watching for, now.
Also, around halftime, there were snacks! That was a totally cool thing...just watching a bunch of young folks getting to enjoy pizza or whatever, smiling and having a great time. One of the leaders made sure everybody had something who wanted it. The conversation was great.
“You want something, man? I’ll get you something.”
“Naw, I’m good.”
“Yeah, I got money. I’ll be good.”
“Ok. Well, if you want something, go with somebody and get it.”
Then the neighbor of the kid who was “all good” turned to him and said, “Shall we go get something?”
He shrugged and said, “Yeah.” And off they went, coming back a bit later with concessions, then eating and talking.
This seems dumb, I know. It’s just ordinary, right? But how many times have these kids, or any of us, been able to get out over the past two years? How many evenings have been carefree enough that the biggest thing you had to worry about was whether or not to get a slice? And who saved up so that person could have their night at the game AND have pizza if they wanted it? As an adult, as a dad, as a fan, and as someone who works with youth on the regular, these things hit all my buttons. You don’t even know what goes into it for some folks, or how cool those moments are.
As the game wound onward, it got more intense. The score stayed close. The Blazers had a chance. At THAT point, the section started coming unhinged. During those dwindling moments of the fourth quarter, people were screaming! Whatever we think of lottery odds and long-term plans, in that moment, I wanted the Blazers to win, because they wanted the Blazers to win.
Normally a game between two sub-par teams going into overtime is a groaner. In this case, it was perfect. The only thing that could have been better was the Blazers actually pulling off the win. They didn’t, but it came down to the last shot. That was still exciting for everyone involved.
The participants around me got a great NBA experience, a fantastic night out, and the chance to experience their classmates and the adults in their orbit in a different way because of you. You made this possible for over 1700 people. Next year, it’ll be even more.
Thank you for making the event possible. Thank you for making the day special for so many that evening. We appreciate you, and the way you helped all of us appreciate the game that night.