(Editor’s note: Welcome Bill Ryan, a former Oregonian and Blazer season ticket holder now hacking out life in the Big Apple. His semi-regular column will explore what it’s like to follow the team from afar, and to be surrounded by two of the NBA’s most dismal franchises.)
“If you can’t be
with the one you love,
love the one you’re with.”
I grew up listening to bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Any time a song from that era springs forth from an arena’s PA, I settle into a numbing and dream-like contentment, even if, as was the case in Madison Square Garden this evening, the Knicks’ featured DJ is “mashing” the song with something hip and contemporary (and auto-tuned), using the dulcets of CSN&Y for an irony laugh.
It’s a fitting song for tonight, sitting in club seats built for what feels like circus midgets. I’m an Oregon Ex-Pat transplantee living in legendary Hell’s Kitchen, whose “legend” murdered my late-night comings and goings for the first two months of my new New York Life. Seriously.
But I survived to be here in Madison Square Garden; however, I sadly cannot be with the ones I love—the Trail Blazers. The Blazers and I have enjoyed an 18-year relationship, filled with the usual ups and downs of any torrid affair. I grew up in the Duckworth/Drexler/Porter era. I remember very distinctly my dad screaming in dismay when Kevin “****worth” (rhymes with “Duck,” synonym of “mom and dad’s special hug”) was so unlucky as to shoot free throws. Turns out my dad can’t abide poor free throw shooters.
I’m Adelman and pre-choke-out Carlesimo. I’m Sabas, especially 30 minutes into a game when his face looked like sad, sweaty death. I was there for the marijuana in tinfoil, the post game death threat on the loading dock, the somewhat-substantiated dogfighting in Lake Oswego, the “scent of marijuana in the car,” the general disregard for posted speed limits, the epic technicals.
I considered divorce, or at least a “trial separation,” but I couldn’t go through with it. I frowned and tried to focus on other things as my paramour vacillated between throwing tantrums and promising that that was her last outburst.
Then, something changed. I was circling PSU one day looking for a parking space when I saw a billboard. I can’t recall exactly what was written, but it amounted to an apology. Someone was promising to end the Jailblazer era. I scoffed—by then, that cry of “wolf” was as reassuring as leaving Ruben Patterson in charge of driving the babysitter home. But, like so many abusive relationships, I believed the promises and bought tickets for the second home game.
Except something really was changing. It sounded like Pritchard was maybe a smart dude. Then the trades began. Call them trades, call them thefts. They happened, and I started sniffing that RipCity scent again. There went Bonzi. There went Stoudamire. Wallace, Qyntel, Ruben - all eventually jettisoned. I got excited, got a job, then made a call.
Suddenly, the year before we Yahtzee’d Oden, I’m a season ticket holder. Always promised myself I’d get season tickets the moment I could afford them. Two life goals: season tickets to a major league team, and a pool table in my garage or rumpus room. I’m not even thirty and I can say I’ve led a pretty full life; I experienced what it’s like to have an usher recognize your face & simply nod in recognition. I’ve followed a team with not only my seat-mate—you gotta order two seats, just a fact of season tickets—but also with the people who had the same idea I did, to substantiate one’s love in the form of a commitment. A several-thousand dollar commitment to the team.
We had cowbells, and we used them.
After all that history, it took a career to separate me and my love. I spent my first year in New York living as an NBA outcast. I’m stuck choosing between the Garden rock and the Izod hard place. I’ve two middling-to-historically-terrible teams within a train ride’s distance, but for neither would I sacrifice a drop of my apartment’s rusty water to put out a fire blazing down their arenas.
Portland, you don’t know how good you have it.
So we’ve come full-circle to tonight’s game at Madison Square Garden. I’m here, but I’m not excited. This isn’t my love. These chumps aren’t my team. It’s the mediocre Knicks vs. the woeful Milwaukee Bucks, and neither team appears any more excited than I am. They look bored, disinterested, maybe tired. But then, something changes. Brandon Jennings juke-steps in, bounces out, and drains a beautiful jumper over an overmatched Chris Duhon. David Lee breaks for an easy backdoor dunk, and the crowd comes alive. There’s a renewed bounce in the collective steps of the two teams, and for the better part of the third quarter, I can feel it coming back. The love. I wonder—is it possible to follow the advice of Crosby? Was Young a sage as well as an acoustic guitar impresario?
Well, I’m giving it a try. I don’t see myself trading my Blazer love for the Knicks (or God forbid, the Nets), but I am rediscovering, for lack of better words, what I loved about my love. Turns out it has something to do with drinking overpriced beer with a friend. Hurling epithets at refs. Bracing for one of those “oh…” moments, where the crowd seems to take a singular breath as something one-of-a-kind unfolds in front of us. Riling up an entire section of mostly wealthy, educated people to scream obscenities at an opposing team’s player (Carlos Delfino, who finished with 13, 9, 6 on 5-12 FG and 2-6 3% with 4 TOs.)
Maybe I can’t be with my Blazers, but I’ll try my best to love the ones I’m with.
Suck it, Delfino.