Before I sat down in Terry Stotts’ postgame press conference, I had my lede for this recap. This was one of those off night NBA games, and I’d rolled my eyes and sloughed this beast off my shoulders. The Blazers sat two starters with injuries; the Raptors lost a pair during the game. Amir Johnson was ejected for scuffling with a ref. The Blazers set an NBA record by missing all 20 of their 3-pointers. Somewhere amidst all the stultifying details there was a basketball game, which the Blazers won despite shooting 40% from the field.
So I had written the game off. I’d knock out some locker room video, dredge up some quotes, call it a night. And then Terry Stotts opened up his conference with a joke about all the missed threes: “Yes, I know we broke a record. And for that record to be broken in a win is even more impressive.” I laughed at the throwaway line, but over the course of the presser, it emerged that Terry Stotts was genuinely pleased with this game. This game in which Sasha Pavlovic played 41 minutes, and just 3 Blazers hit half their shots. This game for which the announced crowd of 16,862 was almost certainly at least three thousand too high.
In the locker room, it was the same. JJ Hickson joked with reporters that the locker room wasn’t opened yet, then he and Will Barton sang a duet to each other. It wasn’t raucous joy that filled the room, but a noticeable workaday contentment. While reporters gathered around LaMarcus Aldridge to hear his take on the game, I slid over to Jared Jeffries to ask him about the team’s mood.
I haven’t talked to Jared before—in fact, I’ve generally been pretty timid addressing players at all to this point. But I found myself sort of surprised that the locker room was as upbeat as it was; after all, the product on the court had been only marginally, if at all, better than the loss that preceded Saturday night’s borderline depressed mood. So I asked Jeffries: how important is it to get these wins on the weird, ugly, disjointed nights?
Jared was cordial, but I realized how banal the question sounded right as it left my lips. After all, what player is going to tell me that a win is unimportant? He gave me some standard stuff about how this group of guys really likes being around each other, etc., etc. I tried to clarify my question, maybe sound a bit smarter: “I mean, this wasn’t exactly the sort of win fans would point to as memorable…”
“People get too caught up on memorable wins,” he interrupted. Will Barton walked up and whipered something in his ear. Jared laughed and dapped him up and made a joke I didn’t understand about whatever character was on Will’s sweatshirt. I thanked Jared, and I left the locker room.
It is so easy to draw artificial lines around a locker room. The locker room as an idea and as a space is a cliché, and it is fraught in the way that any cliché is. So understand my hesitation when I say that outside of a professional locker room, it’s easy to make conjectures on what’s going with a team. And let me also clarify that “outside the locker room” is still my primary mentality—I’m not claiming any privilege on whatever bunker mentality you might assume. I’ve always had the remove of a spectator’s position, or at most a blogger’s, so I know from outside the locker room. And from outside the locker room, this was another one of those nights that was so dull as to almost represent an imposition. Inside the locker room, though, it was the only kind of night there is.
“People get too caught up on memorable wins,” Jared said, as I effectively interrupted his conversations with a teammate. By which I understand him to say, the win is all. Inside the locker room, this is an almost unbearable trite notion. Outside the locker room, for those of us whose daily lives are not literally about the ability to outscore our opposition, it’s still unbearably trite. But, as I learned tonight, that doesn’t prevent it from being true.
Look, maybe you knew all this, and it’s hardly worth writing. But I didn’t. In fact, the idea of a win on a night like tonight can seem ridiculous with the sort of remove I’m accustomed to. What motive should this franchise have to pursue a victory when two of its starters are sitting and the roster could use the infusion of a high draft pick? Why should a rookie star be on the court in this game after rolling his ankle and threatening serious injury? As a fan and viewer, it’s easy to be informed by the big picture of competitive viability and the cynicism so easily acquired with endless information at our fingertips.
But I drove to the game from my own day job, which is another experience I’m relatively new to. And I was in that locker room Saturday night, for eight mute and glum minutes. So when Will Barton interrupted my interview with Jared Jeffries, and the two shared some joke I didn’t understand, I was inclined to believe Jared when he told me that we get too caught up on memorable wins.