We don’t have an NBA team anymore, so I had to go to Portland to watch basketball played at its highest level (thanks, local government). That’s where I was Monday night, amidst a crowd of rabid red-and-black emblazoned fans, cheering on the Trailblazers as they battled the visiting Philadelphia 76ers. This is my chronicle of the night’s events. Enjoy.
5:30 PM: Along with my girlfriend and another longtime buddy of mine, I take to the streets of Rip City after scoring free parking at nearby Lloyd Center Mall. From the mall parking lot, our group of three makes the short walk to a nearby transit center where we wait for The Max, Portland’s public light rail system (that’s right, Seattle, light rail…and it’s free to ride within the greater Portland area. Let’s hear it one more time for Seattle’s local government!). Within a couple minutes we board the train and are surrounded by early-going Blazers fans making the quick journey to the Rose Garden. Less than five minutes later, we’re deposited about a quarter-mile from the gates of the arena…gotta love this free public transportation. We make our way to a covered gate and hover until 6:00 PM, when the doors will officially open. Freezing cold outside, with rain showers, but hundreds of fans quickly begin to form a line in the inclement weather. These fans are hardcore.
5:55 PM: The Rose Garden staff unlocks the doors early and lets us into an interior holding area. I spot the occasional green-and-gold Duck jersey, but for the most part these fans are pretty good about wearing the hometown colors. Lots of red-and-black and tons of Brandon Roy jerseys. On a side note, the ticket-taker who awaits us is the long lost twin brother of Home Improvement’s Richard Karn, aka Al Borland. “I bet he’s wearing flannel under that jacket,” says my buddy. Good call.
6:01 PM: We’re through the gates and handed a free gameday program. Lots of free stuff here in Portland, I’m beginning to like this. We make our way quickly to the Blazer team shop. We’re among the first people through the team shop doors, but are immediately swarmed by a second wave of fans looking to spend money on souvenirs. I’m trapped in the corner. I don’t know where the rest of my group is. This is beyond maximum occupancy. These fans are crazy. If Clay Bennett could see this brand loyalty, he’d poop his pants. This is every pro franchise owner’s dream. All these thoughts run through my head as I search for the exit. I can’t handle this claustrophobic environment. Get me out of here.
6:10 PM: We arrive at our seats, which are perfectly situated within the lower bowl along the baseline, front row of the 200 level. The game is a sellout, but I managed to scoop up these tickets off an online provider for less than half face value. Reverse ticket scalping, I guess. The stands are already beginning to fill up, not fifteen minutes after the opening of the gates. No late arrivers here. A far cry from Sonics games gone by, where fans were lucky to catch the entire first quarter of action. Yet another tragic reminder of Seattle’s transportation issues. And the fact that our basketball team is on loan to Oklahoma City, of course.
6:30 PM: The atmosphere is already electric. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be in attendance at a game with playoff implications.
6:40 PM: The two seats next to us fill up with a young couple in Blazers garb. Both are double-fisting Hefeweizens. It’s going to be a good night.
6:42 PM: We need food. I head out to the concourse on a mission for popcorn. I’m immediately greeted by some angry glares from Blazer fans. Oh yeah. I’m wearing my Brandon Roy UW jersey t-shirt. They don’t take kindly to the purple-and-gold in these parts. My buddy tells me that at a game earlier in the year, a fan in Roy’s Husky jersey was displayed on the JumboTron and immediately regaled with a chorus of boos. That’s an Oregon education, for you.
6:43 PM: For the first time all night, I’ve found something to hate about Portland (besides the UO fans): concession prices. A small popcorn is $6, a large $6.50. A regular Coke is $5.75. Damn. That’s even worse than Safeco Field. This popcorn better be salted with gold. Or at least caviar. I’d settle for premium theater butter.
6:44 PM: My $5.75 Coke comes in a souvenir mug lined with American bald eagle feathers.
6:45 PM: My dream of an American bald eagle feather souvenir mug comes to an end when I’m handed a Coke in your standard paper cup. Calm down, PETA. This is all a joke.
6:50 PM: Back to the seats, and time for introductions. I’m passionate about player intros, no matter the sport. It’s like when you go to the movie theater and the lights dim for previews. How do you not get excited about that? That’s how I feel about intros. The Blazer intros aren’t half-bad. They turn off the lights, play an ear-pounding rendition of “Ballroom Blitz” on the JumboTron, and let the crowd go nuts. The biggest cheer goes up when #7 is announced. Brandon Roy, son. The arena is full.
Side Note: In an effort to distance the fans from the team, the Sonics sold out the pregame intros last season to T-Mobile and it was the worst thing ever. They kicked off the intros with a loud T-Mobile jingle on repeat. It was absolutely horrible.
7:10 PM: The first quarter is underway and here comes the Blazer mascot Blaze, an oversized house cat with a smoking problem, apparently. I high-five him like a little kid. The girl next to me, aka Double-Fisting Hefeweizen Chick, reacts as if she’s just seen a snake or something. “I don’t do people in costumes,” she shrieks. Well that’s no fun.
7:11 PM: We’ve been given Thunder Sticks since we’re sitting behind the Sixers basket for the first half. They come deflated in plastic wrap. I unwrap mine and blow them up. These things are awesome.
7:20 PM: I’ve forgotten how much I hate the fact that they play snippets of rap music while the home team is on offense. Something about that just bugs me.
7:25 PM: Double-Fisting Hefeweizen Chick has finished both her beers. Now she’s screaming at the players. She’s a big LaMarcus Aldridge fan, as evidenced by the jersey she’s wearing. Luckily, her significant other has the aisle seat or this might be disastrous.
7:30 PM: First chance to use our Thunder Sticks and they’re useless. Sixers go about 6-6 on their first few attempts at the line.
Halftime: The game has cruised along up to this point. Sixers lead it 58-44 at the half, putting us in great danger of witnessing a great big losing weekend. We were also present for the Washington-Purdue game on Saturday, as well as the Gonzaga-Western Kentucky game (I had WKU in the bracket). We spend the half back at the team shop where the crowd has thinned substantially. How is it that they sell Blazers rugs, but not mesh practice jerseys? Do we just not use mesh practice jerseys anymore? I love those things. I settle for a $10 t-shirt. Not a bad deal at all.
As we’re walking back to our seats, I come across two of my least favorite fans who, surprisingly, didn’t make the list of Top 11 Sports fans we love to hate. One is wearing a Philadelphia Eagles jersey, the other a Philadelphia Flyers jersey. Yes, it’s those guys, the guys who wear the hometown jerseys of another team, in another sport, to show their loyalty to the city they’re from, but not necessarily the team or sport that they’ve come to watch. I’ve already spotted a guy in a Chase Utley jersey, as well. Apparently, the Sixers are hard-pressed to sell replicas since Allen Iverson left town. To make matters more interesting, a half-drunk Sixers fan actually wearing a Sixers jersey emerges from the stands and freaks out upon spotting these guys in the Eagles and Flyers jerseys. “The gang’s all here!” he yells. He then asks the dynamic duo to pose for a picture with him. Seizing the opportunity, I pull out my cell phone and pretend I’m searching for reception. I get within ten feet of the photo op and snap this shot:
Note the peace sign by Andre Iguodala on the right there. You know he’s here to have fun.
Third Quarter: I’m getting a little nervous. We’re nearing the end of this game and have yet to see a prize cannon. Is this an NBA arena or not? They’ve dropped things down from the ceiling on multiple occasions already, but that’s no fun. There’s a big difference between having an envelope lightly land on your skull, and a t-shirt traveling at speeds of up to 100 MPH smack you in the face. I want to see danger go flying in balled-up cotton form.
Double-Fisting Hefeweizen Chick returned from the halftime break with another Hefeweizen. I don’t know if she’s out to get plastered, or if this is an every game thing for this girl. Her boyfriend/husband/fiance is struggling to keep pace. She’s not very big either, so you’d expect these beers to hit her a little harder than they already are. I checked beer prices when I got in. Each of these Hefs are $8 a pop. They’ve already spent at least $48 on six beers that I’ve seen them drink in my presence. Where’s Pat O’Day when you need him?
In game-related news, the Blazers make a comeback in quarter number three, outscoring the Sixers 28-17 to cut the Philly lead to just three points. It’s 75-72 entering the fourth, and the crowd is going insane. And wait, what’s this….prize cannons! The Blazers cheer squad seizes the break in action to bring out a prize cannon, as well as two prize slingshots to fire t-shirts into the crowd. The male cheerleaders make up for their social inadequacies by firing the t-shirts as high up into the rafters as possible. I keep waiting for someone to get popped in the grill, but no dice. A few body shots, some blows to the shoulder, but no facials. Next time.
Fourth quarter: So far, it’s been the LaMarcus Aldridge show. For a 6’9″ power forward, Aldridge can knock down the 20-footer like a machine. Jon Brockman better take note of this guy’s midrange game if he ever wants to find success in the league. Brandon Roy is having an off night and has yet to reach double-figures scoring. Rudy Fernandez and Greg Oden have played significant minutes for Portland so far, and prove why this is the NBA’s premier up-and-coming ballclub. The Blazers have about ten guys you could build a team around. They’ll be lucky to hold onto three.
Bad news. Double-Fisting Hefeweizen Chick smells awful. Like booze and sweat mixed with gym socks. Feel free to use that line in your Schick Shadel ads, O’Day, “You’ll smell like booze and sweat mixed with gym socks, and your friends will think to themselves ‘Hey, I don’t have to hang out with this smelly buffoon,’ and then they’ll leave you for a different friend because you have a drinking problem and you’re in denial and you want to turn off the radio right now because I’m making you mad, and does anyone else think I talk like an inebriated Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, or is it just me…”
Worse news. We’re sitting directly behind the handicapped section, but the section has been cleared out since about midway through the third quarter. Now an executive-looking guy in a suit comes along and plants himself in a chair in front of me in the vacated row of seats. This wouldn’t be a problem, except this guy is basically the Caucasian Shrek. I can’t see around his huge head when he’s sitting, and when he stands up there may as well be a lunar eclipse. I now have a split-screen view of the court.
The Blazers go on a run late in the quarter and have a chance to win the game in the final seconds. B-Roy can’t convert the bucket, however, and the buzzer sounds sending the game to overtime. Just an overall off night for the ex-Dawg.
Overtime: For almost the entire five minutes of OT, the fans are on their feet in the Rose Garden. You gotta give these fans credit, they are super-passionate about their team. The decibel-level reaches a fever pitch when LaMarcus Aldridge is hacked underneath by about three Sixers and the mascot, who comes running out onto the court to hack the Blazer forward in the middle of play just to prove a point (joking), and the refs fail to blow the whistle. Instead, the ball goes out of bounds and is handed back to Portland. The fans are irate, and you can’t blame them. Sitting near the play, it’s clear Aldridge was abused and even Helen Keller would be hard-pressed to swallow the whistle on this shoulda-woulda-coulda call. A play later, on the other end, Andre Iguodala gets tapped on the wrist and multiple whistles are blown right away. Gotta hate the NBA for their star calls.
The game begins to slip away in the final minute of OT. The Blazers are forced to foul as time runs down, and the Sixers keep making their free throws. Fans head towards the exits and Double-Fisting Hefeweizen Chick is screaming at them, telling them they’ll be sorry for leaving early. She personally confronts one casual fan who is about to exit out to the concourse. He offers no excuses for his departure other than, “It’s over.” She’s legitimately pissed. I’m legitimately frightened.
The final buzzer sounds and it’s over. No W tonight. Brandon Roy finishes with just 12 points on a paltry 5-18 shooting. Aldridge, steady from start to finish, goes for 24 points, 12 rebounds, though does so on a Kobe-esque 9-25 shooting performance. The Blazers receive big efforts from Steve Blake (22 points, who’da thunk it coming out of Maryland?), Greg Oden (13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks), and Rudy Fernandez (19 points). If nothing else, they’re an exciting team to watch.
As we gather our things, Double-Fisting Hefeweizen Chick and her boyfriend/fiance/husband are talking about University of Oregon football. I knew there was a connection between the drinking and the school.