Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Community

I've mentioned a couple of times that I long for the days when the Blazers were a uniting force in the community. If you'll forgive me a few personal memories, I want to share what that looked like in my experience. If this is too "fluffy" for some there's always another post tomorrow.

I remember when I was a kid, just out of high school. (I graduated early, so I was a little younger than normal.) I got a couple of odd jobs and most days I would pass a sporting goods store downtown. I forget the name right now but I remember the clerk working there at the time was really cute. One day I finally got the courage to walk into the store and, you know, talk to the clerk. I never made any headway with her (older woman as it turns out) but I did see something else that caught my eye. Right there in the center of the store they had a rack of Blazer starter jackets. They were the shiny, black nylon ones with red and white trim at the cuffs and collar. They had old school, lower case letters (this was before the caps and the slant) spelling out "blazers". Sewn by the right front pocket was an official NBA logo. And that's it...simple and oh so cool. They were $45 each. I saved up money for a few weeks and then bought two, one for me and one for my younger sister. You've never seen a prouder strut than mine walking out of that store.

Needless to say, I wore that thing everywhere. It literally had to top 90 before I'd take it off. And you know what? It was a conversation starter. I didn't have a car so I rode everywhere on Tri-Met. People would get on the bus, sit down, and just start talking. Old people, young people, guys, girls (I liked that part)...just anyone. You never knew when it was going to start. Wasn't it great how the team was doing? Who do you think is the biggest challenge in the West? Do we really have a chance to win it all? And, of course, what the heck is wrong with Jake O'Donnell? I remember being downtown at a bus stop in the winter. Huddled inside were an old man with a cane, a middle-aged businessman with wrinkles (smoking to stave off the cold), an African-American woman, a college guy, and me. The old man saw my coat and asked if I was part of the team. (Oh, what joy that would be!) I said no, but I liked them a lot. He said they would always turn them on at the place he stayed (some kind of nursing home from what I could gather). Then the businessman started talking about the game in Utah that night. And the college kid joined in, and the woman too. It didn't matter who we were. It didn't matter where we were going. We were just Portlanders talking about the Blazers. What else did you need to know?

Another incident that sticks out in my mind happened when I was riding the 72 down 82nd street, where I used to live. I got on the bus, sat about six rows from the back, and started reading my book, which was the usual way I passed the time. I didn't pay much attention to my surroundings but I did hear a conversation coming from the very back seat. Two guys were sitting there, both probably in their early 20's, and they looked pretty tough. This was during the height of the whole Crips/Bloods thing in Portland. I heard one of them say, "We need to teach him a lesson what it means to wear colors on the bus." That caught my attention, so I looked around the bus to see if I could see a headband or anything like that to indicate who they were talking about. There were only about seven people on the bus besides me and them and none of them looked even remotely gang-attired. That's when I realized that my jacket was red and black. And that's when I started listening to that conversation very intently. I couldn't hear the first guy, the one making threats, very well. But I could hear his friend. His friend said, "Come on, man! It's just a kid supporting his team. Everybody around here loves them. Your little brother loves them. That could be your little brother, man. You can't take a guy down for wearing that around here." The conversation continued for a while, but I guess the friend won out because eventually the two got off before I did. On the way out the door the friend caught my eye and nodded. I nodded back (somewhat timidly). I've often thought of that guy. I don't know whether he saved me from something simple like getting my jacket stolen and getting a beating or something far worse. But when I've thought of him I've hoped that his life turned out OK.

Anyway, the point is, had my red and black jacket said anything but "blazers" on the front, I'm not sure I would have made it three steps past the door of the bus in one piece. But once upon a time, in some weird way, that word meant something to people that was bigger than any of us.

I still have that jacket. In fact I'm looking at it right now. (It even fits! My daily workout must be paying off...) I don't wear it anymore, but I have another one to replace it. (Suede, Blazer logo on the back. Also very cool.) Most days I wear Blazer t-shirts too. Sometimes caps. I don't get much conversation anymore, but a lot of that is because I've lived outside of Oregon for the past decade. I have, however, made enough converts that if the Blazers ever do win the championship, there will probably be people jumping up and down in happiness for me in the places I've worked and lived over those years.

Still, even when I visit Portland the conversation is not the same. The world just isn't the same anymore. Cell phones and e-mail and other forms of instantaneous communication have ensured that we never have to speak to anyone we don't already know. The only strangers we hear nowadays are trying to sell us aluminum siding or satellite dishes, and half of them are pre-recorded. It would be nice to have something to help us bridge that communication gap again...to provide some common ground between us...something we were interested enough in and excited enough about to cause us to reach out on a bus or in the street.

The Blazer logo didn't always evoke apathy and eye-rolling. I don't know that things will ever return to the way they were, but I'm hopeful we'll get beyond where we are right now. That's part of what sport is supposed to do for a community. That ideal shouldn't be lost.

I could share more stories, but I'd rather hear yours. Do you have any favorite Blazer memories/memorabilia or stories about what the team meant to you, your family, friends, or even strangers? Comment below or e-mail blazersub@yahoo.com

--Dave

7 Comments:

Blogger BLAZER PROPHET said...

The year we won our championship, there was a downtown record store open 24 hours. I was in there checking out records at about 1AM and as I turned I was mowed down. With a most sincere apology, Maurice Lucas reached down and helped me up (his hands reached to my elbow) and we had a little chat. He was funny and really cool.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous jorga said...

I just dusted off my blazer (yes, lower case) t-shirts and it made me sad. "I believe" "No doubt about it" "RIP CITY"... a couple that say "Western Conference Champtions". And yes, I'm hanging onto them and will wear one the next game I go to. Maybe I'll wear one someplace else and see if I can get a conversation started - but you know what, I'm afraid to announce my fandom just anywhere. I fear people would make nasty comments about the team and probably me for supporting them and I'm way too timid to talk back.

Somewhere I have a picture of my daughter wearing her 1976 championship shirt (she's your age, Dave) and I know it got handed down to her brother so I can probably find a picture of him in it too. Pictures are about all that's left from that era for me.

Not many memories of community, but do have one of a ferry ride out of Seattle when I had some sort of "Go Blazers" placard in a car window. People thought I was pretty brave to display it in Sonic territory, but Sonics were already out of the playoffs and I just had to rub it in. Got home without anything nasty happening to my car or me.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Scott R said...

being in san diego, i don't expect to get much love from anyone for my blazers. seems almost everyone here jumps on the lakers bandwagon every year then jumps off as soon as it is the cool thing to do. But, with that said, i STILL wear every piece of blazers clothing i can get my hands on(ducks too, but that's another story for another day). I even have bought a little cheerleading outfit, size 2T, that both of my Girls have worn and i have a set of shorts/jersey that they have worn and my boy will wear too when he is big enough. (i have 2 rules in my house: No Lakers fans. No Raiders fans. pretty simple huh?) back to the topic at hand...I still get stopped probably about 20% of the time i'm out by people of various ages asking about the blazers. I get ribbed by the bandwagon laker fans. But i do get a lot of intellegent conversation from many basketball fans who are looking for everyones perspective. I also get a lot of good spirited conversation from a lot of blazers fans that i didn't even think had migrated this far south! I love those days and it makes me proud to be a blazers fan and have faith in our loyal fan base being built back to the level it was not too very long ago. Bottom line is this: While the fans seem to be in hiding right now, there are still some of us loyal, rabid fans spread across this country(i've had the same conversations in Chicago too, but i was only there for 13 months). I am positive that it won't take much to get the less hard core fans out of hiding and wearing the red and black again!!

9:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember listening to the final game of the Western Conference championship, I think in 1990 or '91 with my husband. We beat Phoenix and it was maybe 9:30 at night. At the end of the game, Bill Shonley mentioned that the Blazers would be landing at the Hillsboro airport sometime after midnight. My husband and I grabbed our coats and ran to the car. We got there slightly ahead of the 10,000 other fans so we were right at the fence. I remember the crowd's feverish anticipation of that plane landing so we could get a glimpse of the players stepping off the plane. We waited for probably 3 hours but I never regretted getting to be a part of that! I talk Blazer stuff about the new guys now and people look at me like I'm whacked! But when we get back to winning ballgames, I look forward to hanging my "GO BLAZERS" sign in my car window again.

9:48 PM  
Anonymous brian said...

I'm living in Asia at the moment, but I still were my Blazer apparel frequently. Even though most of these guys have no idea who the Blazers are, I still get people asking me about the team and its players.
The most interesting experience was one day when I was in a grocery store on a busy weekend and a woman flagged me down. She was obviously a foreigner (non-asian) and when I went over to talk with her, it turned out that she was from Portland also and had seen my Blazers cap. We talked for several minutes about Portland and the team, the good ole days of Clyde and Terry and what's going on currently.
It was kinda cool that half way around the world the Blazer bond was still at work.

7:27 AM  
Anonymous fatty said...

my comment is very simple
get players the people can
relate to, get new mangement
who treat people like people
and the conversation and
civic pride will come back
morrison or roy would help
plus a oden*noah next year
anything sort of the above
the see yah !!!!!
no players can relate to
and the people they do have
1)does'nt wan't to be there
2)get's to many chances even
though he is an oxy moron
and follower you people
seem to relate to, and
i'll say it again draft
college men not preschoolers !!!
trust me a jack-roy-webster
somebody at pf and noah at
center thing will turn around
in a hurry trust me people
the community and media
can relate to the uneducated
morons on this roster now
all gone problem solved !!!!!!

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Dr. Dave said...

You know you're old when the "good ol' days" of Blazer basketball were the times before Clyde and Terry. Living in southern Oregon, a live game was a rare treat. So my fondest memories are simply those times just me and my boys hunkered over a radio at playoff time (it didn't matter how the season went-you always knew the playoffs were coming...). The comforting voice of the Shonz who could draw you right there beside him, front and center. Pumping fists, high fiving, biting nails, at times even hiding our eyes, we would push our team to the end. Win or lose, they had our hearts. I'd do almost anything to have that feeling back again.

4:09 AM  

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