Fall is a glorious time for Blazers fans, full of hope and vast potential. It’s a blank canvas. Anything can happen! With another regular season starting this week, it’s time once again to assess why so many care so much about our hometown team. Whether you’re on the fence or don’t care about them at all, read on for 10 perfect reasons to take interest in our amazing Portland Trail Blazers this year.
1. The Bosnian Beast!
Jusuf Nurkic came to Portland late last season in a seemingly unremarkable trade with Northwest rivals the Denver Nuggets. At 23 years old, he was considered a raw project for a team in desperate need of a big man in the middle. Well, it turned out this particular big man was just in need of a little love. Back in Denver, Nurkic felt underappreciated, but soon after arriving in Rip City, the crowd and team showered him with affection—and boy, did he return the favor. Behind his beastly play, the Blazers surged into the playoffs and salvaged what could’ve been a lousy season. Since then the fanbase has been gripped in “Nurk Fever,” an irrational exuberance for this giant and very likeable guy. Rumor has it Nurkic worked out hard all summer, shedding weight off his enormous 280-pound, seven-foot frame. If he continues his meteoric rise, this will be a great season.
2. We’re Underdogs... Again
This is the perennial position for the upstart Blazers. No one ever thinks we’re going be great, and this year Vegas odds-makers put the Blazers’ chance of winning the championship at 100 to 1. So place your bets, people! Seriously, I’d say our chances are at least 50 to 1. But it’s not all about winning the Ring for Blazer’s fans. We’ll be happy with top five in the West—and even that’s a long shot, frankly. But hey, we like long odds!
This is the nickname for one of most dynamic backcourts in the entire league: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. They regularly led the league in scoring last season, averaging 50 points per game combined. Opposing teams struggle to cover this veritable two-headed monster. So much excitement! In previous years, the knock has been that Lillard and McCollum are too small and weak on defense to be truly elite. But this is the year the duo will defy all critics. With the Bosnian Beast in place down low, there shall be no stopping McLillard.
4. The Evil Empire
Once upon a time, Portland had a soft spot for that other team to the south, the Golden State Warriors. After all, they shared a similar ragtag past with the Blazers as a team that couldn’t quite get over the hump. But then came Steph Curry and the tech bros with their gobs of money. Suddenly superstars like Kevin Durant were hopping on board to create a nearly unbeatable superteam. Everyone in the NBA knows the Warriors are headed for another championship this season. They’re so damn good, and heck, they’re even pretty likeable. But Portland has a bone to pick since the Warriors knocked them out of the playoffs two years in a row. Worse still, every time the Warriors come to town they bring thousands of fair-weather fans with them, clogging up the Moda Center with obnoxious “Warrrrr-iors!” chants from that awesome 1979 street fight movie. It’s just rude, man. Someone needs to stop this Death Star of a basketball team—and who better than the true rebel force known as the Portland Trail Blazers?
You may not have heard of him yet, but believe me, you’ll know the name Caleb Swanigan by the end of this season. Picked #26 in this year’s draft, Swanigan is the Blazer rookie to watch. He’s full of heart and hustle, and defied huge odds to make it to the NBA. Swanigan spent his youth in a series of homeless shelters and struggled with weight issues, ballooning up to 360 pounds when he was in eighth grade. “It’s a lot more expensive to eat healthy than it is to eat unhealthy,” he explained. It was during this time he earned the nickname “Biggie,” which stuck with him even as he slimmed down and became a basketball star at Purdue. Still big, he’s now mostly made of muscle. Keep your eye on him.
Donald Trump’s feud with politically active NFL players has been well documented, as was his weird dis-invitation of the Golden State Warriors after Steph Curry announced he wasn’t interested in visiting the White House. Even Lebron James got into the act, calling out the president—who lost the popular vote by 2,864,974 votes—on Twitter. As this season ramps up, it’ll be interesting to see how players and haters react to the strange goings-on in our country. The Blazers, most notably Damian Lillard, have not been shy about speaking out. In a recent interview on OPB, Lillard addressed those who say athletes should stay out of politics. “It makes me think back to kind of the way it was with slavery,” he said. “They don’t want to know what we think, they don’t care how we feel about something. It’s just, ‘Go out there and do what your job is. You make a lot of money, and we don’t want to hear about it.’” Keep talking, Dame!
7. Dame D.O.L.L.A.
Speaking of which, did you know Damian Lillard has a new hip-hop album, and is widely considered the NBA’s best rapper? Sure, it’s a dubious honor—but the album, which was released on October 6, features Lil Wayne, Juvenile, and Two Chainz. Admit it, that’s legit.
8. Snubbed by the Big Shots
This summer the Blazers made advances to several superstar players, hoping to land that extra piece that would put them on the road to championship contention. The most notable was Carmelo Anthony, the New York big shot who in his waning years was known to be searching for a final go at the Ring. Both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum publicly reached out to Anthony to make their case—a somewhat unusual move. Carmelo ended up choosing Oklahoma City, and rumors were floating that while he liked the idea of playing with the McLillard tandem, he couldn’t stomach living in the remote, cold Northwest. Ouch! It’s a tough reality for Blazers fans: Most NBA players don’t want to live here. But hey, just add that fuel to the fire in our collective bellies. And be sure to give Carmelo an extra loud “Boo!” when he comes to town.
9. Jusuf Nurkic’s 400-Pound Father
Hariz Nurkic is a legend back in Bosnia. The seven-foot-tall policeman once took on 14 men in a fight—and won. A local reporter covering the story asked if he had any kids and discovered his rapidly growing 14-year-old son, Jusuf. Until then Jusuf had never played basketball, but he caught on fast! Here’s hoping we get to see Papa Nurkic at a few games this season. Just don’t pick a fight with him.
10. The Bench
Often considered a weak point for the Blazers, I predict this will be the year the Blazers’ second unit finally earns some respect. Players like Evan Turner, Pat Connaughton, and Jake Layman should be feeling comfortable in their roles by now, and ready to make real contributions. Rookie Zach Collins also looks promising. And hey, what will become of ol’ Meyers Leonard?
Anything can happen over the course of an NBA season. For many of us, it’s a very welcome distraction as the dark winter months set in. This year’s Blazers have promise, so let’s hope that come springtime, we’ll watch them bloom big.
Arthur Bradford is a Portland writer and filmmaker, and hosts a weekly call-in radio show on XRAY.FM called Sex, Drugs, and Basketball (Thursdays, 8 pm). Check out his Blazer home game recaps all season long at portlandmercury.com/sports.