1. The Rose Garden is one of the best basketball arenas anywhere.
It’s not technically called “The Rose Garden” anymore, but it’s where the Blazers play, so it’s still the Rose Garden at heart. And whether it’s because of the general community spirit of the Pacific Northwest, the lack of other major sports league options in the region, the legacy of the great teams coached by Jack Ramsay and Rick Adelman, or the mystical influence of the Sasquatch, Portland’s home crowd generates more adrenaline per square inch than almost any other arena.
This might be silly, but it seems like there’s something about the building that lends itself to a specific kind of exciting basketball, fast-breaking, unselfish and 3-pointer-heavy, distinct even from the rest of the country’s great hoops stages. If Los Angeles is about flash, New York about folk heroes, Boston about epic drama, Indiana about face-smashing defense and Golden State about running/gunning underdogs, Portland is about the collective frenzy of a 20-0 run by the home team during which everyone on the floor makes a 3-pointer or a breakaway dunk.
2. But Blazers fans, who are hardcore, haven’t had a team worthy of how hardcore they are in many years.
It’s been twelve seasons and counting since the Blazers won a playoff series. The team hasn’t won 50 games — i.e. the simplest sign of being an NBA title contender — since 2009-2010, and finished under .500 the last two years. Their rank among NBA teams in attendance in the years since 2010? Second, second, and fourth. That’s hardcore.
3. And in decades past, even when they HAVE been good, they’ve gotten snakebit.
The most historically relevant moments in the last three decades of Blazers franchise history are 1) Michael Jordan shrugging as he was demolishing the Blazers in the 1992 Finals and 2) the Kobe-to-Shaq alley oop that propelled the Lakers past the Blazers in the 2000 Western Conference playoffs — in other words, bad things happening TO the Blazers. The nine most-viewed YouTube clips that come up when you search for “Trail Blazers” are highlights of other players scoring against them.
4. But this year’s Blazers team, out of nowhere, is a legit contender.
Above: ESPN basketball writers’ predictions about who would win the Western Conference Northwest Division. You’ll notice something about that chart: no one picked the Blazers. But guess who’s in first place right now? THE BLAZERS ARE, YO! Yep. Projected for 41 wins by ESPN’s generally accurate SCHOENE system (acronyms = credibility), they’re off to a 22-4 start with victories over Oklahoma City, Indiana and San Antonio.
5. Their throwback Rip City jerseys are the hotness.
I would like one for Christmas.
6. And their throwback power forward is an MVP contender.*
It’s not cool these days to be a midrange jump shooter. Today’s players and coaches know that you’ve got to get “high-value” shots (three-pointers and layups) if you want to play at your most efficient. The mid-range game — the fadeaway, the stepback, the elbow J — has gone out of fashion. But not for LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge is one of those guys who was born to be a basketball player, huge and long-limbed but with deft touch. He can shoot over anyone, and his shot is deadly enough to make that old-school midrange stepback/fadeaway/elbow game effective enough to base a team around.
*If LeBron James didn’t exist.
7. Their small forward punched a guy in the genitals in the middle of the Olympics.
Basketball players shouldn’t hit each other in the genitals, or anywhere else. It isn’t nice to hit people. But there is something inescapably hilarious about the above incident in which Blazers small forward Nic Batum, playing for the French national team, chased down and struck Juan Carlos Navarro in the groin during the middle of a game because he was mad at the Spanish team for flopping. There’s just such a look of total rage and determination on Batum’s face. There was absolutely nothing in heaven or earth that was going to keep him from punching Juan Carlos Navarro straight in the dick at that moment.
8. Damian Lillard.
If you DON’T root for the Blazers, Lillard, their star second-year point guard, will dunk on your face.
9. He will rain 3’s on your head from everywhere on the court.
10. He really will shoot from anywhere.
11. No defender is safe at any spot on the floor.
12. Don’t try to guard Damian Lillard. It only ends in agony, pain, shame and danger.
13. Also, Portland is an A+ city.
Dear Portland, we give you a lot of crap for your vegan this and your micro-bicycle that, but it’s really just because we’re jealous that you live in a place that is pretty and has great food and cool bands and yet is not overrun by traffic and horrible high rents. —The rest of America
14. And this guy’s Bill Walton socks are tasteful and elegant.
15. In summary: we should all be like Nic Batum casually celebrating last night’s Lillard game-winner before it even happened.
Nic Batum knows what the Blazers are all about, America. Do you?