GAME 2, TRAIL BLAZERS 112 – ROCKETS 105: HEADED TO THE CLASSIC

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DEAR LAMARCUS NURAE ALDRIDGE,

 

I LOVE YOU.

OH YEAH, YOU DON’T KNOW ME—I MEAN, UNLESS YOU READ THIS BLOG A LOT. BUT EVEN THEN, READING SOMEBODY BULLSHITTING ABOUT DRAGONS AND THE UNDERAPPRECIATED ARTISTRY OF WILL BARTON ISN’T THE SAME AS KNOWING THAT PERSON, AT LEAST WHEN IT COMES TO FEELING THE WARMTH OF THEIR LOVE.

SO ANYWAY, HELLO, MY NAME IS JOE AND I LIKE THE BLAZERS AND YEAH I’VE WATCHED YOU, MOSTLY FROM AFAR, SINCE YOU ENTERED THE LEAGUE.

I REMEMBER YOUR DRAFT DAY. I WAS 18 YEARS OLD AND DRIVING ON I5 SOUTH TO MY SUMMER JOB IN WOODBURN. HAVE YOU BEEN? GOOD MEXICAN FOOD! ALSO THE ARBY’S THERE IS PRETTY DOPE. I RECOMMEND THE MOZZARELLA STICKS. BUT I DIGRESS. I’M TRYING TO TELL YOU ABOUT HOW DEEPLY I LOVE YOU, NOT CHOP IT UP ABOUT THE BEST MOZZARELLA STICKS WITHIN EASY DRIVING DISTANCE OF THE WOODBURN OUTLET MALL. BESIDES, THAT’S A QUICK CONVERSATION. IT’S ARBY’S.

SO THERE I WAS, WINDOWS DOWN, DOING LIKE 75 OR SO, LISTENING TO THE DRAFT ON THE AM RADIO, LETTING THE GRAINY PLAY-BY-PLAY BLAST OUT INTO THE SUNLIT WILLAMETTE VALLEY. I HOPE YOU FEEL THE RICH COLORS OF THIS IMAGE I’M PAINTING FOR YOU. MEANWHILE, IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN NEW YORK CITY READ THE NAMES OF 20-YEAR-OLDS AND ASSIGNED THEM TO RANDOM CITIES BASED ON THE FICKLE WHIMS OF OLD WHITE DUDES AND PING PONG BALLS. SCIENCE!

WHEN THEY SAID YOU WENT SECOND, TO CHICAGO, I DIDN’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT YOU. THEY SAID YOU HAD POTENTIAL. LOTS OF POTENTIAL. THOUGH I TEND TO IGNORE DRAFT PEOPLE SAYING SOMEONE HAS POTENTIAL. “POTENTIAL” SEEMS LIKE DRAFT PEOPLE PROJECTING THEIR OWN HOPES AND DREAMS, THE ONES THAT DIED LONG AGO IN THEIR LIFE OF DISAPPOINTMENT THAT LED THEM TO BECOME DRAFT PEOPLE, ONTO THE NEXT GENERATION OF KIDS WITH LONG ARMS, SOLID YOUTUBE TRAFFIC, AND EASY SMILES. NO OFFENSE.

BUT THEN THEY ANNOUNCED THE TRADE! THE BLAZERS WERE PICKING TYRUS THOMAS FOR CHICAGO AND YOU WERE COMING TO PORTLAND! ALL OF A SUDDEN, WOW, YOU HAD POTENTIAL!

I WAS AT YOUR FIRST GAME, THE 2006 SEASON OPENER IN SEATTLE AGAINST THE SUPERSONICS. RIP. I DON’T REALLY REMEMBER HOW YOU PLAYED THOUGH, OR EVEN IF YOU PLAYED AT ALL. I WAS MORE SMITTEN WITH THE OTHER ROOKIE, BRANDON ROY, AND THE WAY HE HIT TOUGH SHOTS AND LOCKED DOWN RAY ALLEN LATE TO GET THE WIN. HE WAS SO SMOOTH. HE WAS THE OBJECT OF OUR AFFECTION. YOU WERE THE AFTERTHOUGHT. YOU WERE THE KID ON THE BENCH WITH POTENTIAL.

OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS, YOU REALIZED THAT POTENTIAL. OR SO WE THOUGHT. YOU MOVED WELL. YOU REBOUNDED WELL ENOUGH. YOU WERE TALL. AND YOUR JUMP SHOT, WELL, YOUR JUMP SHOT HAS ALWAYS BEEN ALL AUDREY HEPBURN – A SYNERGY OF CLASSIC BEAUTY AND SOPHISTICATION.

YOU BECAME A MACHINE THAT RELENTLESSLY CHURNED OUT 20 AND 9 EVERY GAME. BUT THAT WASN’T ENOUGH.

YOU AND I, WE’VE HAD A ROCKY RELATIONSHIP FOR MOST OF YOUR CAREER. WE’VE BEEN IN A BOAT TOGETHER AND THAT BOAT HAS BEEN SCRAPING OVER A LOT OF ROCKS.

I DIDN’T LIKE YOU. I MADE A LOT OF DEROGATORY REMARKS ABOUT YOUR ABILITY AS A BASKETBALL PLAYER. I PROCLAIMED YOUR UNWORTHINESS TO ANY WHO WOULD LISTEN. I’M SORRY.

YOU WEREN’T THE FOLK HERO THAT ROY WAS. YOU WERE DOMINATED IN THE PLAYOFFS BY LUIS SCOLA. I KNOW I ALREADY TALKED ABOUT THAT IN MY LAST RECAP BUT I JUST CAN’T LET IT GO. LUIS SCOLA. GEEZ.

EVEN WHEN YOU PUT UP THE NUMBERS THAT YOU ALWAYS DID, I WONDERED IF IT CAME AT THE EXPENSE OF THE TEAM. MIDRANGE JUMPERS ARE DUMB. YOU SETTLED FOR BAD SHOTS BECAUSE YOU COULD MAKE THEM BUT THEY WERE STILL BAD SHOTS. ALSO YOU WERE BORING. YOU SHOWED NO EMOTIONS. AND NOT IN THE COOL ASSASSIN WAY, MORE LIKE THE VACUUM CLEANER WAY. VACUUM CLEANERS HAVE NO EMOTIONS BECAUSE THEY ARE VACUUM CLEANERS. ALSO, VACUUM CLEANERS ARE NOT COOL.

I CALLED YOU SOFT. I WONDERED IF YOU EVEN CARED ABOUT ANYTHING BEYOND YOUR 20 AND 9. AGAIN, I’M SORRY. BUT I AM A MEMBER OF THE #SPORTSMEDIA (LOL) NOW AND THAT MAKES ME A BARBARIAN WHO WONDERS ABOUT THE MOTIVATIONS OF OTHERS WHO ARE FAR MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN ME. WELL ACTUALLY, I MAY NOT BE IN THE NBA BUT YOU DON’T HAVE A BLOG, SO LET’S NOT QUIBBLE OVER WHO’S MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN WHO. THE POINT IS, FOR MANY YEARS I SAID A LOT OF BAD THINGS ABOUT YOU THAT I’M NOT PROUD OF. BUT I DID MEAN THEM.

THIS YEAR THERE WAS NOTHING TO SAY ABOUT YOU EXCEPT THAT YOU WERE BRILLIANT. I WON’T SAY THAT I WAS RIGHT TO CRITICIZE YOU FOR SO LONG BUT YOU PROVED THAT 20 AND 9 EACH NIGHT ON SPOT UP JUMPERS AND TURNAROUND FADEAWAYS WAS NOT YOUR CEILING. NOT EVEN CLOSE. THERE WAS A SILENT FEROCITY BURNING INSIDE YOUR EMOTIONLESS EXTERIOR. THERE WAS ALSO A DEVASTATING POST GAME IN THERE NEXT TO IT. JUST AS I ALWAYS IMAGINED.

YOU COULD CARRY A TEAM NOW. YOU COULD CARRY A PLAYOFF TEAM. YOU COULD CARRY A PLAYOFF TEAM INTO AN ORNERY ROAD ATMOSPHERE AGAINST A PLAYER SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED BY PATRICK EWING AND HAKEEM OLAJUWON TO RENDER YOU INCAPACITATED AND YOU COULD MAKE THAT PLAYER LOOK LIKE BARBECUE CHICKEN OR WORSE, SHAQ YELLING INCOHERENTLY ABOUT BARBECUE CHICKEN.

YOUR PERFORMANCE IN GAME 1 WAS MAJESTIC, THE SORT OF THING TO MAKE WISHES ON, AND TATTOO ON THE FACES OF YOUR KIDS. WHAT A SPECTACULAR GAME. BUT WE KNEW IT WAS A RARE GIFT. LIKE A SOLAR ECLIPSE OR JAY ELECTRONICA TRACK. SURELY YOU COULDN’T DO THAT ANY OLD TIME, GO OFF FOR 46 POINTS AND 18 REBOUNDS AND DOMINATE THE GAME LIKE KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR CROSSED WITH JAY BILAS’S PEYOTE VISIONS OF EVERY LEAN YOUNG FORWARD WITH A JUMP SHOT.

THEN TONIGHT HAPPENED. 43 POINTS. 28 SHOTS. YOU PROVED THAT WHAT HAPPENED IN THE FIRST GAME WASN’T A FLUKE. NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH A FLUKE. YOU HAD BEEN THROUGH A LOT OF SHIT HERE. FROM ZACH RANDOLPH TO RAYMOND FELTON TO EVEN LAST SUMMER WHEN THERE WERE FALSE RUMORS MADE ABOUT YOU WANTING TO LEAVE. YOU STAYED. YOU STUCK IT OUT. YOU EMBRACED US AND FORCED US TO FINALLY EMBRACE YOU. YOU DESERVED A FLUKE. BUT YOU EARNED TONIGHT.

TONIGHT WAS—WELL, I’M STILL NOT SURE HOW TO DEFINE IT. IT WAS MESMERIZING. EVEN WHEN YOU DID THINGS WE DIDN’T EXPECT, THE RESULT FELT INEVITABLE.

BY THE TIME YOU WERE APPROACHING 40, THERE WAS STILL A FEAR THAT THE ROCKETS WOULD COME BACK. A FEAR THAT GREW INTO A LEGITIMATE TERROR WITH A COUPLE MINUTES LEFT. BUT I WASN’T WORRIED MOST ABOUT LOSING BECAUSE THE BLAZERS NEEDED THE WIN – WHICH THEY MOST DEFINITELY DID. I WAS WORRIED MOST BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT YOUR PERFORMANCE TO BE FOR NAUGHT. THE BLAZERS HAD TO WIN BECAUSE YOUR GREATNESS NEEDED TO BE ON DISPLAY FOR THE WORLD. THOUGH I SUPPOSE I NEEDN’T HAVE WORRIED AT ALL, AS YOUR GREATNESS WAS WHAT ALWAYS GUARANTEED THE WIN.

SOMEDAY THEY’LL HANG YOUR NUMBER UP THERE IN THE REALM OF THE FLOATING FORD ESCAPE. THEY’LL RANK YOU WITH THE OTHER GREATS. YOU MAY NOT EVER PASS WALTON’S BRIEF FLOURISH OF GENIUS OR ROY’S RESONANCE WITHIN THE CITY, BUT YOURS IS A PERSONAL STORY UNLIKE ANY OTHER PLAYER I CAN REMEMBER. YOU’VE IMPROVED EVERY SINGLE SEASON OF YOUR CAREER, AND YET YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN DEFINED BY WHAT YOU WERE NOT.

YOU BEGAN AS PURE POTENTIAL, AND EVEN WHEN YOU BECAME GOOD, YOU WERE CRITICIZED FOR WHY YOU HADN’T REALIZED YOUR POTENTIAL TO BECOME GREAT. BUT NOW, YOU ARE GREAT. YOU JUST SCORED 40+ POINTS IN BACK TO BACK PLAYOFF WINS ON THE ROAD. THERE IS NO VISIBLE POTENTIAL TO BE REALIZED AND NOTHING LEFT THAT CAN BE ASKED OF YOU (APART FROM WHY YOU DON’T TAKE ONE STEP BACK AND MAKE THOSE LONG TWOS INTO THREES) AND SO NOW I’M MORE EXCITED THAN EVER TO SEE WHAT YOU CAN BECOME NEXT. BUT I’LL HAPPILY TAKE WHAT YOU ARE RIGHT NOW.

 

LOVE,

 

JOE

  • Iknowmynameisstephen

    Your writing fills me with delight. Well done, sir.