When I was choosing where to go to college, I had narrowed it down to Lewis & Clark or Macalester. My brother (who tried to convince my cousin Kristin to go to UNC instead of Colgate because Michael Jordan was a Tar Heel) told me he’d like me to go to Macalester because he’d much rather go to a TimberWolves game when he came to visit me than a Trail Blazers game. Of course, I chose to move to Portland.
About the time I was sending in my housing deposit, Rasheed Wallace (also a North Carolina graduate) had just earned his 41st technical foul in one season, breaking his own record from the previous year. My freshman year, I went to three Blazers games. I was in the stadium when Scottie Pippen was ejected for launching a ball into the stands like a discus. I had a subscription to The Oregonian when they reported that Bonzi Wells had flipped off a fan during a game, then responded to questions about the incident by saying, “I black out sometimes…” and then winking. He was quoted in Sports Illustrated saying that fans, “…Really don’t matter to us. They can boo us every day, but they’re still going to ask for our autographs if they see us on the street. That’s why they’re fans and we’re NBA players.” I was in college when Damon Stoudamire, Rasheed Wallace and Qyntel Woods were busted for Marijuana possession. Multiple times. I heard on the radio that Qyntel was dogfighting and Zach Randolph sucker punched his own teammate in the face. I was in Portland during the Jail Blazers years and they were rough. If Clyde Drexler had decided to come out of retirement for one last game in a Blazers jersey, you still would have been hard pressed to get me to pay $30 for a ticket.
But somehow, not long after I graduated college, things changed. The franchise realized that they’d lost the fans and it wasn’t because of their record; it was because of their players. Most of the ones with legal troubles were traded, and the ones who couldn’t be traded were benched. Nate McMillan was hired as coach and Brandon Roy was drafted out of the University of Washington. In 2007, Brandon Roy became Rookie of the Year (thus becoming Brandon R.O.Y.). Since then, things have continued taking off at the Rose Garden, and I’m now proud to say I can name all but 3 players on the team (and I may or may not have crushes on a few). I’ve already been to more Blazers games this season than I have the rest of my life combined and I’ve even begun watching them on TV; a first for me.
But the moment I really knew things had turned around came on Tuesday morning.
Monday evening, the Blazers played the Lakers, one of the few teams I really don’t like. Not for any particular reason other than I hate Kobe Bryant, but aren’t all team allegiances and rivalries based on flimsy circumstances and opinions? Anyway, the Blazers won. I’ll give that a moment to sink in. The Portland Trail Blazers beat the Los Angeles Lakers. In basketball.
In the game, Rudy Fernandez, one of our two adorable, flamboyant Spaniards, was fouled. It looked absolutely horrible. Nothing like Joe Theisman breaking his leg, but definitely a replay that made you cringe and grab your side in empathy.
I’m not going to waste even more of your time debating over whether Trevor Ariza deserved the Flagrant 2 foul he received, although I did think Dave at Blazer’s Edge had an interesting argument:
“This was the NBA equivalent of the helmet-to-helmet contact in the NFL. Is the helmet-to-helmet intentional every time? No. Does it cause injury every time? Of course not. But it’s dangerous and that’s why it’s been outlawed and why it’s punished every time. “
Anyway, back to my boys. The real moment came the next day when the team reacted on camera to what happened and the announcement that Ariza would not be punished further.
Did you see that? Those players didn’t talk any shit. They didn’t threaten Ariza or “black out” and get belligerent. They calmly stated they weren’t going to stand idly by and watch the Lakers take advantage of them. But they acknowledged that it was a tough call and they didn’t think anyone would want to hurt Rudy. Both Sergio Rodriguez and Brandon Roy even ended on a positive note.
Nate McMillan was the only person whose reaction was even slightly… unedited. When was the last time the coach was the most candid member of our team? And when I say “most candid”, I mean, “he shook his head and said, ‘I’m not going to say any more’ because he didn’t want to be too critical or negative.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I am a Portland Trail Blazers fan.