It was a little bit after 6 o’clock Wednesday night. We’d been having a wonderful dinner in Maui and were in the car on the way to a Peter Frampton concert, of all things. Concerts are not something I normally would do on Maui, but when you can see Frampton, you go see him.
In the car, my cell phone was vibrating like crazy and I finally gave in to the temptation of seeing what all the fuss was about. Texts, e-mails and voicemails were all asking me the same thing — Did you hear about Greg Oden?
No. Please. No.
Damn, I didn’t want to hear that. I felt sick. And not as much for Oden, who seems like a good man, but for the fans of this team. They’ve invested so much in this franchise over the years and it always seems like a big tease. Just when they’re ready to sit down at the banquet table, they find out they’re plopping down on a Whoopie Cushion.
Rooting for this team always seems like one big April Fools joke, as in, hey — it’s April and you thought your team was going to be a factor in the playoffs. Ha! Gotcha. Now go have a nice May and study the mock drafts, maybe you’ll find a nugget in the second round.
For decades in this business I’ve protected my neutrality. I don’t root. I don’t have favorite teams. Yeah, I’m a relic of days gone by, but it’s the way I am. People used to always say, “So you’re a Blazer fan?” — and I’d just laugh. No, not really. When I got to know some of the coaches and players over the years, I always wished good things for them. But when you’re covering a team, you don’t need any excess baggage like player friendships or hero worship. It doesn’t work.
But at the same time, it’s never kept me from having a lot of empathy for Trail Blazer fans. I mean, seriously — how much are they supposed to put up with? Come on now, fair is fair. Haven’t they suffered enough? And don’t talk to me about Cubs fans or Clippers fans or any of that junk. They’ve just been losers. Period.
These fans here, well, they’ve been tortured. My goodness, this is the franchise that once had the most beautiful team in basketball, their one and only champion — the 1977 NBA title winners — and had to watch that squad scuttled by an avalanche of injuries less than a year later.
This is the fan base that watched Sam Bowie suffer one leg injury after another (and folks, I saw the man play and he was going to be terrific before the bones started breaking. He was a shot blocker who could shoot and could run).
This is a franchise just now struggling with the news that Brandon Roy will probably never be the player he once was, a career likely cut short by knee injuries. And oh, so many other players. I don’t want to go into it. You know the stories.
And now the Greg Oden news. This kid could have been a game-changer. A franchise-changer. Now… well, who knows? Just how long do you wait?
And, of course, that’s not even all of it for the long-time fans of this franchise. You are aware, I presume, that this is also the franchise that could have drafted Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Kevin Durant, right? These guys lost Hakeem Olajuwon on a coin toss. And it’s a franchise that traded Moses Malone when he was just a kid. All could have been Trail Blazer for life. None were.
And through all of that, they’ve been lining up to buy tickets in Portland, season after frustrating season. And lining up, it seems, for years just to get their hearts broken.
Like I say, how much is enough? How long can this go on? These people here, these fans, they deserve so much better. But how long can you last as a fan of this team? Isn’t there a breaking point — a time when you just have to walk away and invest your emotions and hard-earned money in something a little more predictable? Heck, the Clippers or Cubs won’t break your heart — they’ll just lose and you can laugh and go on about your business.
But the Trail Blazers? So much promise. So much of what just seems like awful, horrible, despicable, crummy damn bad luck! I have always believed in karma and Trail Blazer fans are due some good karma, aren’t they? At some point?
I just really cannot believe this is all happening to this franchise. Again. The Blazers don’t need a general manager, they need an exorcist.
Frampton, by the way, was a good thing to do Wednesday night — a sensational concert. He may not have the flowing locks these days, but he’s still got talent overflowing. He can play and sing just about as well as he ever did. And when he wrapped the concert up with his signature song, the monster that powered the best-selling live album in music history, I had to shake my head.
That song went 21 and a half minutes with Frampton asking the same question I’d ask you:
Do you feel like I feel?