Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

It wasn't long ago that the Portland Trail Blazers were one of the most consistently successful franchises in all of sports. They perpetually won, going to the playoffs 21 consecutive seasons up until 2003. Always contenders, always entertaining, every so often they'd go and reach the Finals, even winning it all once. Great players like Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler and Sam Bowie came and went, but, through it all, the winning rarely waned. (OK, maybe Bowie wasn't a great example, but how many teams could have passed on Michael Jordan and barely flinched?)

Most importantly, the Blazers were beloved in Portland, a city that doesn't have pro baseball, football, hockey, or really, much college sports tradition. The love affair between the Blazers and their fans was one of the strongest in sports.

The Blazers were kings and ruled all that they surveyed in the Rose City, a place just small enough to truly look on the Blazers as an extension of themselves, a place where players would be greeted with homemade cookies by adoring neighbors.

Sadly, those days are gone and the news now is about how the Blazers are losing money rapidly - with the possibility of leaving Portland even being mentioned. I was shocked to hear this. I knew things were bad at the moment, but I had no idea things were this bad. This is unacceptable.

Oh, and the Blazers are awful on the court, too.

So what happened?

Ironically, the Blazers financial downward spiral coincides somewhat with the arrival of billionaire Paul Allen, one of the richest owners in sports. This goes to show that money doesn't conquer all, not when love and passion are absent. This is why I have so much respect for a guy like Mark Cuban who pours his heart into his team and reaps the benefits.

Meanwhile, if there is a franchise that can look to one specific game as the moment things began to go sour, it's the Blazers. June 4, 2000. A Sunday night. The Staples Center. Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals. That was the day the Blazers blew a 15-point fouth quarter lead and lost to the Lakers, a day that the fates of two franchises collided and sped off in opposite directions. The Lakers began a dynasty, the Blazers were never really the same. It was one of those "This isn't really about to happen - or is it?" games. It was a brutal, demoralizing loss. I don't remember much about the actual comeback, but I do remember Mike Dunleavey being interviewed afterwards and him being barely able to talk. His face was beat red and sweaty, his hair a mess, and his tie and jacket askew. He looked like a drunk who had just been in a bar fight and lost. I was certain Rasheed Wallace would be arrested later that night.

Since then the Blazers have slowly descended downward to the point where they're a now a laughingstock: the Jail Blazers, a team full of potheads, criminals, and head cases, a team whose fans have slowly turned their backs in disgust. Blazers attendance currently ranks only above the Atlanta Hawks, which may be the biggest indictment of all. And it's hard to blame them. I'm having a hard time thinking of another pro franchise whose fortunes have turned so harshly and so quickly in recent years. (Maybe the 49ers, though they lack the lengthy rap sheet, so even they aren't quite as bad.) The Blazers have combined sudden losing with horrible behavior like nobody before, and hopefully, nobody after.

It's sad. I sincerely hope Allen gets of his billionaire yacht and helps the Blazers right the ship. Or let someone else do it - someone who truly cares. The love affair between the Blazers and the city of Portland is renowned, though abused badly. But I don't care how bad things look now, you can't tell me that the Blazers fans don't still have a large soft spot in their hearts for their beloved team. You can't tell me that they aren't just itching for the Blazers to give them a reason to open their arms wide open again. I'm certain they are. I'm certain they would. And I won't hear otherwise.

The Blazers belong in Portland. Period. The NBA would be lessened otherwise, and so would the city. Let's hope this depressing mess gets straightened out.


Blogger Bill-DC said...

I was sad to see two Terp favorites of mine Juan Dixon and Steve Blake depart the Wizards for that mess.

3:32 PM  

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