It shouldn’t be so easy.
I shouldn’t be able to shrug off the latest lawlessness coming out of the Portland Trail Blazers.
It shouldn’t be this easy to forgive Zach Randolph’s sucker punch to the left eye of fellow Blazer Ruben Patterson, or to grin and bear it when rookie Qyntel Woods is stopped for speeding and proceeds to tell police officers who find marijuana in his car that he is “addicted” to smoking pot.
It shouldn’t be easy, but it is. You see, I’m growing older, but I haven’t forgotten what life was like 5 years ago. And the transgressions of a pair of guys just entering their 20s aren’t as shocking to me as they are to just about everyone else I know.
Randolph and Woods should be juniors in college, and as the two youngest Blazers, the two forwards are buddies. They play X-box together, constantly debating over who is the real king of Sega’s NBA 2K3 (point guard Jeff McGinnis thinks he’s better than both of them). Randolph, juiced on youth and looking out for his bro, jumped between Woods and Patterson at practice Wednesday and punched Patterson, who was being restrained by centers Chris Dudley and Arvydas Sabonis. Randolph’s fist opened a cut around Patterson’s left eye and left his face swollen and bloody.
That the sucker punch was uncalled for is not debatable. Enter Woods, a skinny rookie forward who is known to throw down embarrassing dunks in practice and add a little playoff intensity and you can see why tempers could have flared last Wednesday. An unidentified Blazer said last week that Randolph and Patterson have had a little “thing” going since last season. It sounds like maybe the 27-year-old Patterson needs to grow up a little. It’s obvious Randolph needs to. Here’s hoping that two games without pay and a $100,000 fine works as a good learning opportunity for him.
Of course, nothing is more convincingly moronic than what Woods supposedly did Saturday before last. Police say Woods, who turned 22 in February, was going 83 miles per hour in a 55 around the Terwilliger curves. Police say they stopped Woods and that his truck stunk of pot smoke when he rolled down the window. Police asked to search his Cadillac Escalade, Woods permitted them to, and police found less than an ounce of weed and some warm ashes. Woods passed a field-sobriety test, but was found to have no license or insurance for his $60,000 vehicle.
How dumb can you be, right? Well, telling the arresting officer he has tried to quit smoking marijuana for three years but can’t because he is “addicted” puts Woods on a whole other level. And the guy is making a ton of money, so being cash-strapped doesn’t stand in the way of him picking up a fat chronic sack.
The big question stands: because these players are making more money than most of us ever will, are their slip-ups all the more awful? What if they weren’t making $950,000 a year? I mean, when your older brother was caught smoking pot in the attic, did your neighbors call your house demanding that your parents send him to Cleveland or disown him altogether? Is it fair to come down heavy on young players solely because they’re making bank and are in the public eye? Because they have rocks hanging in their ears and rocks bouncing around in their skulls, too? Would people be this hard on them if they were still playing in college?
The reason I forgive Qyntel and Zach is that I see this as a rearing issue. The Blazers’ organization isn’t embracing the opportunity to mold these youngsters into both outstanding players and upstanding citizens. Can’t one of the coaches write “If you gotta get stoned, do it at home” on the chalkboard after practice? It could become the team’s mantra. They could shout it as a group before warm-ups. Is there a non-violent conflict resolution lesson anywhere to be seen? I hope so.
One thing is certain: Patterson says he’ll forgive Randolph and won’t retaliate, at least until May 14, when he gets off probation for sexual assault. Whether the Blazers are playing as a team by then is a whole different question.