A trailblazing love affair
By Alex Bullock
I’m in a relationship. I’m hopelessly in love. I’m not talking about my girlfriend, though. Don’t get me wrong, I love my girlfriend very much, but right now I’m talking about my first love, the one who has been with me through good times and bad for my entire life: the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers are the only big four sports team (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL) of a small-market city—the only show in town, if you will. I didn’t have a choice. The Blazers were my team
The first NBA Finals of my life pitted my Blazers against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. I was six months old and I don’t remember any of it, but I can tell you with some certainty that I was crying after they, like all the others, fell short of taking down Jordan’s Bulls. Those tears may have been unrelated to the result of the series, but I am retroactively attributing them to the loss.
I remember being 9 or 10 years old, shooting baskets on the street outside my friend’s house: he was Rasheed Wallace and I was Damon Stoudamire. We would lower the hoop a few feet and I would rain in three-pointers and throw him alley-oops, just like the pros. I can’t tell you how many buzzer beaters we made in those days.
My relationship with the Blazers has taught me what true joy feels like. It’s that moment when a sure loss turns into an amazing win with a miraculous buzzer beater. Brandon Roy, 2008, against the Houston Rockets. Pure excitement followed by genuine happiness.
The Blazers have taught me about sorrow as well. In 2000 the Los Angeles Lakers overcame a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to defeat what was arguably the best NBA team to not make the NBA Finals. That quick fall from exhilaration to misery was like a punch in the stomach. It was horrible.
The Lakers went on to demolish an Indiana Pacers team that was noticeably undermatched to win the NBA title, an NBA title that could have belonged to the Blazers if not for a few questionable calls by the referees. A banner hangs in the Staples Center that should hang in the Rose Garden. The Blazers clearly have yet to teach me how to move on.
Aside my family and a few other things, the Portland Trail Blazers are one of the only things that have been consistently present throughout my life. Players and coaches have come and gone and the jerseys look a little different, but my relationship with the team has stayed the same.
And it really is a relationship. There have been highs: I didn’t know what it was like for the Blazers to miss the playoffs until middle school. It’s easy to love your partner through the highs. What’s difficult is sticking through the lows.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the team was young, talented and successful. The level of character of the players, however, was questionable at best. There were often clashes between the players, sometimes coming to fisticuffs. Additionally, numerous members of the team had problems with the law including drug possession, sexual abuse, domestic abuse and animal abuse. Due to these off court problems, the team earned the admittedly clever moniker of the Portland Jail Blazers.
Even amidst the turmoil in and out of the locker room, the team was winning. They were at the tail end of 21 consecutive playoff appearances, the second longest streak of all-time, spanning from 1983 to 2003.
Bonzi Wells, a guard for the team at the time, was quoted in 2002 in an interview with Sports Illustrated saying, “They [the 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.”
The sad thing is, Wells was right. The news in Portland was constantly reporting the players’ transgressions, yet fans still showed up for the games and still supported the team. I was one of them.
The team means more to me than what a few mistakes by old players could have done to damage the relationship. It may not be the healthiest of relationships, but I will stick by my Blazers until the day I die.
For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in winning and in losing, the Blazers will always hold a special place in my heart.