Last night’s Blazers shellacking of the Utah Jazz was an evening of firsts for me: first live Blazers game of the season, first time buying a full priced ticket to go to a Blazers game, first time having a beer and enjoying the game with said beer… and most importantly: it was the first time I had been to a Blazers game as a fan in over 5 years. Let me back up slightly so that the significance of that last statement isn’t lost on anyone. As most avid Pinwheelers know, I worked at the Rose Garden from February 2007 to June 2013. I had the joy, pleasure and incredible opportunity of working a section that afforded me a vantage point people would kill to have. I was also immensely fortunate to interact and rub shoulders with a few NBA GMs (Sam Presti and Rod Higgins), player development coaches (Fat Lever, most notable name working with DeMarcus Cousins), family members of players (such as Kevin Durant’s mom, Jason Terry, Isaiah Thomas, and Aaron Brooks) and notable athletes (talked with Coach K, Tracy Porter and Marshawn Lynch). And all while this was happening, I was in the greatest place in the city watching the entity that keeps the heart of the city pumping night in and night out. There were unbelievably awesome times: Brandon Roy and Rip City Revival, the 13 game winning streak, the consecutive trips to the playoffs, and numerous Laker thrashings. And yeah, they were absolutely horrendous times:
knee injuries injuries in general, consecutive first round exits, the insipid NBA Lockout, Raymond Felton and the 13 game losing streak. The roller coaster I’d witnessed firsthand, the crests and troughs we have experienced as a fanbase together, the players that we have had to suffer through by watching them play and the players we wished would play more… the stories we can tell. I asked off that roller coaster earlier this summer as I resigned from the Rose Garden in pursuit of an Americorps position, which then led to the job I am at now. Not only did the resignation from the Rose Garden mean I was leaving one job for another, it meant that I was leaving what seemed like an indelible part of my life behind as well.
I had become increasingly despondent with working at the Rose Garden, as well as following a team that just did not seem to “get it.” By “get it” I mean that the organization did not seem to have any discernible plan to rise from the doldrums they were mired in. Not only that, but they seemed unable to get out of their own way in terms of decision-making. I feared they would never get it, which meant that putting my energy toward being a fan of the Trail Blazers was robbing me of energy that could be utilized in better and more fruitful ways. This mindset led me to become cynical about the team and the organization. My Blazers discontent led me to write this preseason note about how making expectations for the 2012-2013 Blazers would be not only silly, but it would also be a trial in futility. The last full season I worked at the Garden was great because of this mindset, and going into the summer of 2013 I was content to not even worry or bother much with what the team was doing. I have to say that it was a great decision after having spent so much time and energy in high school, college and post-bach poring over stats, matchups, and draft prospects. Yet at the same time, I was still curious about the team… I couldn’t just outright quit them. I have too much Blazer regalia, too many bobbleheads, t-shirts, posters, media guides, etc, etc to do something like that.
Fast-forward to now and I feel that my fandom is reinvigorated from the hiatus I took from the team. As my fandom has been reinvigorated, the team and organization itself is revitalized to a level that this city has not seen or experienced since the 2007-08 season where the Blazers had a 13 game winning streak and finished at .500 on their way to 3 straight playoff appearances. The vibe in this city has reached those levels again and it is fantastic because watching basketball is supposed to be fun and enjoyable, not agonizing. Going to the Rose Garden is supposed to an adventure and a treat, not a dreaded form of torture. Being a fan of the biggest show in town (sorry I’m not sorry Timbers fans, you are still second in my eyes) is something to be happy about instead of thinking of ways to tear down the roster and start the rebuild. And the one decision that has proven to me that this team and city is back to where it was in 2006, 2007 and 2008 as a Blazers fan was by going back to the place I had worked during those seasons.
Me walking into the Garden as a patron was odd… but it felt good. It felt as if I had come full circle: fell in love, needed space, realized that the differences were fixable and we’re now on good terms. Walking around the concourse, the first thing I noticed is that the pillars by each concession stand had been painted. Even the concession stands had been re-painted. Of course I would notice structural differences first after being so accustomed to seeing it one way for so long. I saw guests that I hadn’t seen since the end of last season throughout the evening. The conversations picked up right where they left off. Time apart really does make the heart fonder. Having spent ages 18 to 24 in one place, with as many people as I had interacted with, with as much knowledge of the building as I have, with all the knowledge about the ins and outs of the game production, and speaking with past coworkers was an upwelling of elation for me. This is all before I have even mentioned the fact there was a game played. To me though, the game is and was secondary on this night because the building and magic that happens in it was on full display. And do you know who is to be celebrated for creating that magic? We the fans are.
What made my first game back in the Rose Garden so great, what made my first game as a fan and not an employee so incredible, what made me happy I made a spur of the moment decision to buy tickets so worth it was being with all of the Blazermaniacs. As the Blazers went on to thrash the Jazz with a scintillating performance from behind arc (with exceptionally electrifying 1st and 3rd quarters), memories of seasons passed filled with similar routs sprang to mind and the cheers matched in pitch perfect unison. Rip City is back and for all that has gone on for the team the last half decade, this is a well-deserved reprieve from the cynicism and hopelessness we had become accustomed to seeing, knowing and feeling. Get back on the ride if you hopped off. Invite your friends if they have not yet experienced what is happening in Rip City. And if you have been riding for the long haul, strap in, cheer hard and enjoy the fruits of the Blazers labor. Take a trip down to the Garden to catch these men play and see the change in culture on the court. Take in a game and listen to memories of old coming alive and cascading over you.
They never truly left. Memories rarely do. They usually fade into the back due to repression, waiting for some catalyst to awaken them. In terms of Rip City, this year’s Blazers team is the catalyst to awaken those repressed and dormant memories of the happy times. Embrace this moment. Embrace this team. Embrace the glee that is flowing through this city as we witness the Western Conference leading Portland Trail Blazers on a game to game basis. In the words of the immortal Bill Schonely that are said before each fourth quarter: “What time is it? It’s RIP, RIP, RIP CITY TIME!”