I’m supposed to hate the Trail Blazers. I’m supposed to hate them for breaking my 15-year-old heart in the 2000 Western Conference Finals when they produced the second biggest choke job in the history of sports (Yankee fans can tell you about the worst choke).
I’m supposed to hate the Blazers for bringing bloated Shawn Kemp to Portland and for trading my favorite player Rasheed Wallace to the Atlanta Hawks, so he could win a ring with the Pistons. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. He was supposed to bring the championship back home. I’m supposed to hate them for smoking pot on I-5 and for trying to sneak it onto an airplane. I’m supposed to hate them because there is no one on this 2005-06 team from that game six years ago when they were seven minutes from the NBA Finals.
I’m supposed to hate them for drafting high schoolers for the last three years. I’m supposed to hate them for having those high draft picks. I’m supposed to hate them because they are the only pro sports team in town and they haven’t been winners in a long, long time.
This Blazers team breaks hearts. This team rarely gets breaks. All things considered, there was definitely a reason I hadn’t been to a game all season until Wednesday night.
The Blazers’ game against the Denver Nuggets saved me. It saved me from a life of hating my hometown team and the cure was surprisingly easy. I cheered. I screamed and yelled and hooted and berated the referees. Sitting in the nosebleeds at the Rose Garden (where the true fans sit) I was more engaged with the game then I’ve been in two years.
Because of my job at the Vanguard I can’t cheer at Portland State’s games because I sit on press row. When I go to Blazer games, I sit in their extra press box; again, no cheering allowed.
The Blazers gave me plenty of reason to cheer, and that was as exciting as anything. I haven’t wanted to cheer for the Blazers since the 2001-02 season. Though the current incarnation eventually lost to the Nuggets 97-94 due to some sloppy play down the stretch, it was an exciting game.
More importantly, I found myself getting excited about the future. The Blazers have a nice young nucleus and a coach in Nate McMillan who doesn’t take any of the garbage players would have thrown at him during the Jail Blazers era.
Don’t want to hustle down the court and play defense? Nate will yank you. Don’t want to scrap for loose balls? Nate wants to know why. Play in control like Steve Blake and Nate will let you run the team and be the man, even if you aren’t a flashy high draft pick with New York City roots.
I like this team, don’t get me wrong. They intrigue me and they’re improving steadily. But when Blazers PA man Mark Mason announced forward Zach Randolph as “the 6-9 great from Michigan State” Wednesday night I got seriously nostalgic for the days of the smooth shooting original Blazer from Michigan State, Steve Smith.
Too bad Smitty is retired, along with Scottie Pippen and Arvydas Sabonis and all the other players that held me captivated for all those years. Now all I have is a couple of ratty old jerseys, old ticket stubs and the hope that someday I’ll be able to cheer not because it’s novelty, but because the team truly deserves the praise.