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Tuesday, April 04, 2006
The Blazers' darkest hour
17 years ago the walls of my bedroom were covered in Blazers propaganda. A "Clyde the Glide" poster was hung with loving care over my desk. A 7 foot-tall image of Buck Williams reached from floor to ceiling and my closet doors were adorned with clip-out mini-posters from the Oregonian of each member of the starting lineup. During the entirety of 1989 I wore only two t-shirts to school: one featuring Bart Simpson and another with a shot of the front page of The Oregonian after the Blazers won the Western Conference Championship. That day's edition also included a sidebar mentioning a review of "Total Recall" in the A&E section. The Blazers AND Arnold Schwarzenegger on the same shirt? Fashion didn't get much cooler than that in the fifth grade.
Back in those days people shelled out big bucks (ok, $80 or so) for "Blazervision," a season-long PPV package that delivered untelevised away games and home games guaranteed to sell out. Banners echoing "RIP CITY!" could be found hanging off office buildings downtown and warehouses lining I-84. Z100 was running either "Rip City Rhapsody " or "Bust a Bucket," two unbelievably cheesy songs performed by members of the team, every half hour.
I would turn down the volume on games broadcasted on KGW in order to listen to Bill Schonely's play-by-play radio coverage on 1190 KEX. There was always a half second delay on the TV broadcast, which meant Schonely would reveal wether or not a basket was good while the ball was still sailing through the air. It was like he was predicting the future and his trademark "RIP CITY!" usually matched up perfectly with the rock hitting the net.
Those days are long gone. Over a decade of run-ins with the law, wasted potential, indifference and outright hostility from the players, PR disasters. Paul Allen's inexplicable fixation with Darius Miles and the occasional pitbull match have a way of doing that. That's not to say the good ol' days were perfect. I'm probably one of the few people in town that even vaguely recall an unfortunate incident that went down in Utah. Sometime in the early '90s various team members were caught (supposedly) trying to pick up underaged girls in a Salt Lake City shopping mall. The term "Jail Blazers" harkens back to at least the Drexler-era.
Flash forward to 2006. I never win anything but somehow landed two tickets to Saturday's home game against the Utah Jazz. I can only assume that this was because no one else entered the contest in question. Has the franchise really sunk this low? There was a time when I would have been parked and inside the Rose Garden 45 minutes before the opening tip. On Saturday night, a colleague and I decided to drag our heels at a restaurant over on NE Broadway instead of making it in time for the "Star Spangled Banner." Or halftime for that matter.
By the time we got to the Rose Garden, the Jazz had a double-digit lead and Blazer fans were marching out of the stadium with their heads hung low. This was only half-way through the third quarter. The Jazz weren't playing all that well but our Portland Trailblazers looked downright pathetic. Easy turnovers, half-hearted jump shots- nothing but malaise and lethargy on the court. A fan to our right spend most of the fourth quarter with his head in his hands. A family behind us, with an entire row to themselves, struggled to keep their kids occupied. They looked like they were attending a particularly dull church sermon instead of an NBA basketball game.
When the Blazers did score, all they earned for their efforts were polite golf claps. The team's lone dunk during the fourth quarter didn't garner much more enthusiasm. This was a crowd so dejected and demoralized by the franchises' endless foibles that the only thing that got them out of their seats was the possibility of free t-shirts. Once the cheerleaders and their air-cannons were off the court, they fell back into their semi-comas. The only real cheers came when the team's mascot, Blaze, strolled out to perform aerobatic dunks during a timeout. You know your franchise is in trouble when the team is getting shown up by a guy with a trampoline and a cat costume.
And where were the free Chalupas? Or does the staff at the Rose Garden only break out those coupons if the home team scores over a 100 points?
Halfway through the fourth, the stadium was half empty. Within seconds of the final buzzer, it was nearly vacant. Twenty-four hours later, the team would suffer one the franchise's worst losses, a 39-point blowout against the nearly as pitiful SuperSonics. Coach Nate McMillan later remarked to the Oregonian, "the thing is, it could get worse."
Are you sure about that? According to Jon Canzano's Weblog, a recent in-house promotion offered free tickets to the team's remaining home games in exchange for used Verizon telephone books. A few years ago these same tickets would sell for upwards of $50. They can't even give them away.