I'M VERY SORRY to mention it here, in such a public forum, but... Amy Hedgecoke, I have your childhood scrapbook in my possession.
Given to me as a gift, and rescued from a dusty thrift store bin, this local girl's scrapbook diligently follows the 1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers via crudely cut photos from the Oregonian sports page. There's Bill Walton's furry face as he dunks over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lionel Hollins getting whistled for a foul, and Dave Twardzik wearing the single shortest pair of shorts known to man. I always knew young girls kept diaries, but credit Portland's lone championship season for weaning teenage girls away from schoolyard gossip and toward the athletic heroics of a few men in tiny shorts (if only for a short while).
In addition to Amy's precious memories glued to a yellowing page of paper—first game ticket stub: March 14, 1978, versus the New Orleans (not Utah) Jazz—there was a folded copy of the Blazers fan contract. This Jack Ramsay-signed "honorary contract" was given to fans in exchange for their feverish loyalty to the team. It's both cute in its intentions and creepy in its legal speak ("to render true and faithful service throughout the season as a professional honorary member of this team"), but if anything, this piece of paper offers a glimpse of the absolutely frantic heyday of Portland basketball, when this small market became the national highwater mark for sports fandom. A time when Portland ceased being the flyover city between San Francisco and Seattle, and started being Rip City.
Well, at this point and time it's safe to say that Rip City has returned. This weekend the Portland Trail Blazers journey to the National Basketball Association playoffs for the first time since the 2002-2003 season. But other than playing for the same team, and on the same hardwood, this year's team has little in common with the Blazers' previous playoff lineup. While the current Blazers lineup is deeply embedded with young players and anchored by a steady rotation of rookies, the franchise's last playoff team only had a trio of ill-fated young players—Zach Randolph, Qyntel Woods, and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje. (Boumtje-Boumtje, ironically, might have emerged the best of the three, although his legacy is forever cemented as being that one guy Rasheed Wallace attacked with a basketball.)
The Blazers playoff push was predicted, but never this soon. Given the team's deep range of talent and vast inexperience, a post-season excursion seemed likely, but definitely not this year. Yet here is Portland, with over 50 wins (53, as of press day), and a full playoff dance card awaiting them.
FIX YOUR HAIR, YOU HAVE A DATE WITH THE PLAYOFFS
So, now what? The Blazers have torched through a season that featured (in no particular order): Greg Oden getting hurt, Brandon Roy returning to the All-Star game, the emergence of LaMarcus Aldridge as the team's most consistent scoring option, Oden being whistled for 234 fouls (and counting), Rudy Fernández melting hearts and hitting desperate long-range shots, and Oden getting hurt while simultaneously fouling another player. Phew, what a year. But as exciting as the playoffs are, Portland is drastically short on playoff experience. The permanent bench fixture Michael Ruffin has more playoff experience (a whopping 256 minutes over nine seasons) than the entire Blazers roster.
If the Blazers have any shot of emerging, limbs intact, from the first round of the playoffs, they'll need to have home court advantage. With the third best attendance in the league, the Rose Garden has become a den of tinnitus for visiting teams, and Portland's 33 home wins (and counting) is the most since they relocated from the Memorial Coliseum in 1995. But even if they don't advance, this team's meteoric rise from mere potential, to popping their collar as one of the elite teams in professional basketball has to be seen as a total success, and a story worthy of scrapbooking.
WHO WILL THE BLAZERS PLAY IN THE PLAYOFFS?
GOOD QUESTION. The NBA playoff seeding is a very complicated system originally developed by the druids in the second century, before being revised for expansion by the pagans (someone has to take the blame for the catastrophe that was the Vancouver Grizzlies franchise), and it now finally rests in the hands of the league's trollish commissioner, David Stern. In an annual ritual, Stern reveals his cloven hoofs and lowers a pristine virgin (watch out, Travis Outlaw!) into a bubbling cauldron, and thus, the NBA figures out its playoff matchups. Since as of press time Stern has yet to fully open the hellmouth and complete his demonic selection process, here are the two most likely candidates for the Blazers' first round opponents: the San Antonio Spurs or the Houston Rockets. If it's any other team, blame the vast Zionist conspiracy and the Skull and Bones Society, both of which are major behind-the-scenes powerbrokers in the NBA. How else would you explain the baffling career of Wally Szczerbiak?
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are a horror movie villain. Every year, without fail, the dusty bones of that team limp into the post-season looking too old, tired, and inept to topple their opponents. And every year, without fail, the Spurs refuse to die, and end up ruining the entire NBA playoffs with their boring textbook execution, flopping international players, and bland superstars.
They are the basketball equivalent of a presumably deceased Michael Myers, slowly pursuing a screaming girl through the woods, or Freddy Krueger hiding behind the basement furnace. (In fact, Krueger and Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich share some similarly unfortunate facial blemishes.) Just when you thought they were dead and buried, they return for more carnage, and sequels—each worse than the one before. Despite getting older and older, the Spurs have taken home four championships in the past decade, and probably murdered countless skinny-dipping teenagers by the virgin waters of Camp Crystal Lake as well.
The Blazers are young, resourceful, and energetic. The Spurs are old, precise, and enjoy napping during reruns of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. But despite winning the season series, Portland's polar opposite approach from San Antonio's will matter little once they meet in the playoffs. The Blazers will need plenty of good fortune to stop the Spurs, and should heed the timeless advice of all horror movies: You can't kill what's already dead.
- Illustration by Ryan Berkley
Compared to the unstoppable killing machine that is San Antonio, Houston is even scarier. The Blazers' lone victory over the Rockets came via a 32-foot prayer shot from Brandon Roy at the buzzer. While this doesn't offer much hope on paper, it's a clear sign that either Jesus is a Blazers fan (How else would you explain Roy's game-winning shot?), or is on Paul Allen's payroll—that man is richer than Jesus.
It makes perfect sense when you consider the godless Houston lineup: Ron Artest (once punched a fan during a game), Yao Ming (godless Maoist, which everyone knows isn't even a real religion), Luis Scola (hedonistic longhair flopper who spends more time on his back than Mary Magdalene), Aaron Brooks (University of Oregon graduate, which means he came from Eugene, and thus has already been to hell and back), and Shane Battier. I got nothing against Shane Battier.