Monday was the Portland Trail Blazers Media Day and, wanting to get my Insta-jam on, I managed to con both the Portland Mercury AND the Blazers office into letting me crash the party. Now that the sugar-buzz of (literally) brushing elbows with the Rip City elite has mostly worn off and I’m forced to confront the inherent pomp and hollowness of such a media pageant, here’s what I remember:
Media Day is a pretty sweet pep rally wrapped in a press conference wrapped in what has to be the players’ least favorite day of the year. Their Q&A sessions with the press (including the guy who asked every single player to summarize the team in one word) were just one of a million promo tasks the players undertake at the beginning of the season. The jumbotron videos where the players are pantomiming fierceness or makXX? They shot every one of those goofy promos yesterday. I walked past racks of hundreds upon hundreds of basketballs—almost a city block in length, three deep—for each the players to sign individually. This is the type of shit the Blazers were taking a break from to answer tired questions from local reporters.
Full disclosure: I really wanted one of those autographed balls, but they evidently weren’t there to use in buying off members of the press. I might have been the only reporter there in a Blazers t-shirt, but even I knew autographs and selfies with the stars were a no-go. Beyond that rule, though, I hit this press conference in full fan mode, and my only real preparation for the event involved (Trail) Blazing a little bit at home before heading to the Moda Center.
EEEEEK! Right when I got there, I walked in the wrong door at the stadium (see previous sentence) and ran smack into Terry Stotts, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Damian Lillard! EEEEEK AGAIN! I had been there less than five minutes and I was already in towel-snapping distance of the greats! D-Lil looked me up and down long enough for me to get a smidge paranoid, but then gave a friendly "what’s up" as he walked by. Dude is only a couple inches taller than me! (That must explain why he dunks so much better.)
As for the event itself... the fifth paragraph feels like a good time to report on it. Except for the “holy shit it’s Wesley Matthews” dork-out moments—which were pretty sweet—the whole affair was nothing earth shattering. We heard a lot (as you surely will in upcoming months) about what it will take for the Blazers to become an “elite team,” whatever the fuck that means. (Actually, another reporter dutifully asked each player what the phrase means to them. Coach Stotts’ answer fit best: To be an elite team means “to be part of the conversation”; essentially, to be considered playoff contenders year after year.) So yeah, the buzzword of the 2014-15 season is going to be “elite.” Hopefully, at least.
Otherwise, the general response to any newsworthy question was “no big announcements at this time,” and the answer to almost all other questions was “we’re hungrier than ever this season because of last season.” Or as Thomas Robinson (whose thumb is fully healed from summer league) described it, “(We) got beat by the Spurs and realized we weren’t as good as we thought we were.” (All together, in our heads, now: “LET’S GO BLAZERS! clap-clap, clap-clap-clap!)
MORE AFTER THE JUMP...
• “Winning solves everything.” – Damian Lillard
• Chris Kaman is a bad-looking motherfucker! A brawny 7’0” ginger who looks like he can fight three dudes at once? I’d think twice before driving the lane on that dude.
• Big scoop: I pulled Dorrell Wright (the man of many bright sneakers) aside to ask what we’re going to see in terms of footwear this year. “Aw man,” he said, face lighting up. “I was counting the other day – I have like 42 pair of shoes ready to go this season.” [Note to national media outlets: Please credit Chas Bowie and the Portland Mercury when reporting this news.]
• LaMarcus Aldridge looked like the most tired man on earth, and had the only sensible answer for the reporter who kept asking which word sums the team up. “There are only so many slogans or words, man,” Aldridge said. “I’m not really buying into those words.”
• The Blazers’ abysmal defense was another popular topic of conversation, but Robin Lopez beautifully summed up his philosophy on how things need to improve: “A lot of (playing) defense is effort.”
• Predictably, lots of talk about the bench players, who agree to a man that they’re ready to not be the Lowest Scoring Bench Team in the NBA again this year. But seriously: with Mo Williams out of the equation, Chris Kaman and Steve Blake on the bench, and all last year’s young guns who supposedly improved their game over the summer (and who all looked appropriately intense and in shape yesterday), there’s no way our bench isn’t going to be better this year.
Which leads me to my personal, slightly disappointing headline from Media Day, which is that I’m not making fun of Meyers Leonard anymore. Obviously, there’s no way this resolve can last all season, but all I’m saying is maybe Damian Lillard’s anti-bullying campaign is having some sort of secondhand effect on me.
Until the other day, this blog post would barely be held together by cheap jokes about Meyers Leonard. (For example – Q: Who is the Blazers’ prettiest cheerleader? A: Meyers Leonard). Not anymore, though. I made the very unfunny mistake of humanizing a guy I once compared to a stretched-out blow-up doll.
At one point in the day’s proceedings, the Blazers’ PR people released six or seven non-starting players to the press room at once. Reporters predictably flocked to players like CJ McCollum and Will Barton, leaving Meyers Leonard—my (former?) least favorite Trail Blazer—completely ignored and alone, which was hilarious until it got depressing. Depressing enough that I eventually said "fuck it, I’m going to chat with the dude whose game I once compared to the lead singer of an all-giraffe boy band on ice skates."
- Chas Bowie
- MEYERS LEONARD "Alone again... naturally."
When I introduced myself to the 7’1” Blazer, for whom the adjective “pretty” feels most fitting, he turned to look at me with the weariness of a kid surrendering his lunch money for the fifth time this week. Having spoken to the guy for five minutes, I’m probably not qualified to label Meyers Leonard “tortured,” but this kid (he’s 22) is trying his best to work shit out.
When I asked if he thought Portland fans have given him a fair chance, he spoke slowly, shyly, and solemnly, conceding that he was “possibly frustrated” with his inability to break though as a player, as well as with a system that generally dictates that you don’t get game-time minutes until you’re “NBA good,” but that it’s impossible to get “NBA good” without game-time minutes.
“Let’s look at how much experience I actually have,” he suggested. Usually when people say this, they’re not trying to impress you with how under prepared they are for their role in life. But that’s exactly what Leonard did, saying that in his AA high school league, the next tallest kid was six feet, so of course he excelled there. Then he rode the bench his freshman year of college, played a bit his second year, and wound up in the NBA before he was ready. He didn’t say that last part, but it was implied. He understands why some fans wonder how good he actually is, he said. I asked if he wondered the same thing, and he spit out an emphatic “yes,” as if I had been missing this point the whole time.
At this point I felt so depressed by Meyers Leonard (I can’t believe I just typed that) that I had to lighten things up a little. And so I wound up offering my least favorite NBA player branding solutions. “Alright, here’s what we’re going to do,” I launched in. “You know how Justin Beiber fans are called Beliebers? You need a name for your core fan base, something hanshtag-able. I’m thinking LeonardHeads,” I suggested, instantly kicking myself for giving that one away free. Meyers wanted no part of my plan, though. “Yeah, that’s not really the thing though,” he sighed, before saying more depressing stuff. I cut him off: “Well maybe it’s the year of Meyers Leonard.” To which he stuck out his hand, which looked like one of those foam fingers, for a handshake. THE END.
PS – GO BLAZERS! RIP CITY!!! WHOOOOOOO!!!!!!!