Fan at the stand

For the third straight year, I was afforded the opportunity to commemorate the end of pro basketball’s summer absence with Portland on Tuesday.

For the third straight year, I was afforded the opportunity to commemorate the end of pro basketball’s summer absence with Portland on Tuesday.

As a Blazers employee, it gives me the unique three-fold opportunity to simultaneously celebrate with more than 20,000 fans, interact with hundreds of them and watch the game on the concourse televisions from my little satellite T-shirt stand.

From the moment the gates opened at 6 p.m., I felt an instant cathartic rush as the first of thousands of fans pushed through the Rose Garden. Within minutes, the first chants of “Let’s go Blazers!” rang through the lower concourse, as fans began to mill around expectantly. It’s easy to see that, for most of these people—and certainly for me—the night’s festivities rival Christmas in grandeur and expectation.

The great thing about opening night is that nobody is particularly geared to buy merchandise, especially from my small stand. Unlike the main store, where there is a constant flow of people coming and going, my stand let me observe fans as they circled the concourse for nearly an hour.

Last year, opening night fell on Halloween, which was a mixed blessing. I wasn’t able to celebrate Halloween, dress in costume or engage in drunken tomfoolery, but I was able to watch thousands of Blazers fans partake in the fun. Though there were clear favorites in regards to costumes—Will Ferrell’s character from Semi-Pro easily trumped the sexy referee—the extravagance of the fans’ costumes spoke volumes about their passion for the team.

This year, the season opener lacked the calendar date to permit sanctioned public dress-up, yet several costumed fans came to the arena on Tuesday. A returning favorite, “Darth Blazer,” whose usual black helmet is bedecked in red and the Blazers’ insignia, was flashed early onto the concourse televisions. At times it’s assuring to know that the same fans are OK coming to opening night year after year, adorning the same ridiculous ensemble just to make others around them laugh, scratch their heads or both.

That’s not to say this year’s opening night was lacking in costumed newcomers. About halfway from when the gates opened and when the game started, I spied what I’d like to be Darth Blazer’s mortal enemy: Blazer Spider-Man. Decked in black spandex from head to toe, “Spidey Blazer” came complete with white eyes and a 10-inch Blazers logo emblazoned on his torso.

When the game finally started at 7:10 p.m., after the players walked around the concourse and descended to the arena floor through the pulsing crowd, I was allowed to sit back and more accurately observe the gamut of fan groups. As each purchaser came to buy T-shirts or knickknacks, I quickly spotted the dedication level of the individual shoppers.

The easiest to identify are the bandwagon fans who are clearly not at the game so much to watch, but to be there and get drunk. There is nothing wrong with this, as it’s how everyone essentially begins liking a team. However, it is never particularly fun to describe each jersey and each player number—especially when you have to tell someone who the team’s star player is, and what number he wears.

That’s not to say that there are fans that shouldn’t be at the arena. This is our team, and everyone deserves to participate and have fun. But it is another conglomeration of fans that are my favorite. The children, season ticket holders and downright fanatics are easily some of the greatest people to talk to and help when they come by the stand.

The fanatics are easy enough to assist. They almost always know precisely what they want, which makes my job a thousand times easier. When they don’t, it’s amusing to watch men and women already dressed from head-to-toe in Blazers gear attempt to search for the perfect accoutrement to complete their ensemble.

The best feeling is when a child or foreign fan buys their first piece of Trail Blazers merchandise. With children, it’s amazing to see their eyes light up in wonder as they get their first jersey, foam finger or miniature basketball.
The foreign fans, especially from France and Spain, almost always buy Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum jerseys and have incredible stories to tell as to why they are in Portland, watching the Blazers.

On Tuesday, it was especially great to see fans of a lost team join the festivities. One man, donning Seattle SuperSonics’ yellow, slowly made his way around the arena holding a small, simple sign reading “Save Our Sonics.” When he walked past me at the end of the night, still holding his sign, he flashed with his other hand a giveaway-prize Blazers hat as silent confirmation that he too was here to enjoy the Blazers.

I love my job. I essentially have the worst season ticket in the world, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s a rare opportunity to work alongside so many fantastic people while watching and participate in an experience with some of the most passionate fans in the NBA.

By the time the Blazers pulled out their 96-87 win over the Rockets, and as chants of “Let’s go Blazers!” rang through the concourse long after the players could hear, it was again affirmed that I have one of the greatest jobs I could possibly imagine.