Illustration by Ryan Alexander-Tanner

I SHARED A DESK with Jerome Kersey on the Blazers post-game show Talkin' Ball for about two years. We didn't work together until my third show, and when I found out he was going to be on the panel, I was as nervous as I've ever been in my life.

You grow up in awe of your favorite athletes, they almost don't seem like real people. They exist on television, where they emerge from the depths of the arena and gift us with the spectacle of their athleticism; they give us a frame to dress with meaning and community, and then they disappear back into the tunnels. When you're a kid, the players exist in your imagination—epic figures to inhabit as you dribble recklessly in front of the hoop in your cul-de-sac, or as you drift off to sleep.

When I met Jerome Kersey he was... well, normal. He was down-to-earth and earnest and conversational, and then the cameras started rolling and I actually made him laugh and it remains one of the coolest moments of my life. We saw each other regularly over the next couple of years, at games, in the studio, and he always remembered details about my life. He asked how my career was going, how my family was doing. Jerome Kersey made me feel special.

Then I found out Jerome Kersey was like that with pretty much everyone he met. He made everyone feel special, and I don't know if I can adequately express how much that means, how massive a gift of a human being he was.

If you look at sports with too much logic, it begins to seem ridiculous, right? It's just a bunch of genetic freaks wearing team laundry in exchange for unthinkable paychecks. Whether the Blazers go 82-0 or 0-82, it doesn't really change the way the world turns. Fandom is easy fodder for the cynical.

Still, right or wrong, sports fans pour so much of themselves into their teams. The hope that exists at the beginning of every season is a tangible hope. It won't pay your mortgage, but it might make your house a warmer place to live. It might give you something to share with your neighbors.

Our culture is splintered and specialized, and commonality is so fleeting and rare. Portland is a tug-of-war between broke hipsters and rich Lake Oswego boat owners and rich hipsters and broke Beaverton cell-phone salesmen and transplants and fifth-generation-and-can't-wait-to-tell-you-about-it drunks. Sometimes all we have in common are wet socks and the Trail Blazers—and that's enough. We pour so much of ourselves into sports, and Jerome Kersey was the rare, rare, so-very-rare athlete who gave of himself right back.

I'll miss him so much. The city will miss him so much.