Today while in the shower (yes I know, but c'mon, doesn't everyone get a lot of good thinking done in there?) I was thinking about whether or not I should write a blog for the new Blogger Network. I have dabbled in writing of various mediums my entire life, but the closest thing I have ever been to blogging is Live Journal, which really served more as an avenue for my late teens/early twenties angst. I thought to myself, "self, you know a thing or two about the Blazers, you might just have something interesting to say that people might want to hear." I floated along on this thought tangent for several minutes, my mind going here and there over what players I have liked, what games I have been to, and various other mostly meaningless nonsense. Eventually I found myself thinking back to the origins of my fandom. I was nearly immediately frozen in my tracks, my mind almost unwilling to continue the thought.
So, after toiling over the idea for several hours, I have decided that yes, I will sit down and write about the early years of my romance with the Portland Trail Blazers... and why for nearly 6 years I didn't watch a single game.
That's me there in the middle. Cute right? In this picture I am 5 years old. On my right is my brother Michael, age 3, and on my left is my cousin Josh, age 7. My grandparents bought us these matching sweatsuits, and I remember thinking it was the best present I had ever gotten. I remember standing and posing for this picture. Happy as can be.
As far back as I can remember, my cousin Josh was more like a brother to me than a cousin. His father, my mother's brother, had a hard time finding work in Portland, and moved to the east coast when Josh was very little. His mother was addicted to methamphetamine, and was hardly ever in his life. Josh spent his time either with my grandparents, or with our family.
I won't go so far in depth into the memories I have of my childhood with Josh that I begin to bore you. The fact of the matter is simply that Josh and I were very close. He had a hard life, and a lot of the time he felt like he didn't have anyone, and we were always by each other's sides, the best of friends. A lot of the memories I have of Josh involve the Blazers. We would sit on the floor of my living room, inches from the television, watching Blazer games. We would beg my mother to take us to Dairy Queen so we could get the latest Blazer glass. I remember challenging Josh to a footrace in Albertson's to see who could get to the bread aisle first to snatch up this week's Franz trading card. We had all of them of course, in this dinosaur peechee folder that Josh kept his drawings in. He was the keeper of the trading cards. I, being the younger and also female one, was not worthy of guarding such precious treasures.
When we were little, my favorite player was Clyde Drexler, his was Terry Porter. I can almost hear his voice exclaiming "T.P. for threeeeee!!" We would, of course, get into heated battles on which one of our favorite players would score the most points in that game, and make bets on who would have to do the dishes based on such points. I won a lot of the time, and he was a poor loser, always huffing and puffing around the house until I gave in and helped him with the chore.
As we grew up, and started developing our own lives, spending more and more time apart, we always had something to talk about when we got together. We would talk and talk about what had happened in Blazer Nation since the last time we'd seen each other. It was, looking back on it now, such a gift to share this passion for the Blazers with him. I am not very close with much of my family. We aren't a Hallmark card in the making. Josh was the only one who I was close to, that I could tell anything to. He was more a brother to me than even my real brother.
On the day of my 16th birthday, April 23, 2000, Josh and I were in a fight. He had started dating my best friend a few weeks earlier, and I was upset at both of them for bringing this conflict of interest into my life. I knew that one of them was going to hurt the other, and I would end up stuck in the middle. Josh was at my birthday party, but we didn't speak more than a "hello" the entire time. I was 16 and hot headed and thought I knew everything about everything.
About a month later, May 26, 2000, I was at a friend's house watching Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. We were playing the Lakers, and had just come off a 29 point victory in Los Angeles in Game 2 to tie the series 1-1. Josh and I had not spoken since my birthday party a month earlier, and I remember really wanting to call him to talk about the game, but I put it off, thinking we could talk about it later. Game 3, in Portland, began on a 15-2 run for the Blazers. Momentum was on our side, the crowd was crazy loud, and 16 year old me was overcome with excitement watching my favorite player, Rasheed Wallace, dominating in the paint. The Blazers led by 8 after 1, and by 10 at the half, at one point going up by as many as 17.
And then the phone rang.
It was my mother. She told me something was wrong with Josh, and that my grandfather had called the police because he was worried he might hurt himself. I thought, "oh great, exactly what I thought would happen. Him and my friend probably broke up, and now Josh is gonna run around like he's Mr. big man." My mom told me that I'd better come home, that we should go down there and talk to him. I told my mom no. I was too enthralled in watching the Blazers killing the Lakers and Josh would be fine. He'd be fine, right?
The Lakers rallied to outscore the Blazers 27-16 in the 3rd. All of the life drained out of the room, all the cheers died down, I just watched in anger as my team was letting this game slip away. Moments before the end of the 3rd quarter, my phone rang again.
My hands shake as I sit here typing these words, the memory fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. Just as my Blazers began losing the game, Josh lay dying on the pavement, having been shot 7 times by the police whom my family had called to help him. It is painfully ironic that just as the life was drained from the Rose Garden crowd, Josh's life slipped away. He was 18 years old. And he died during the 3rd quarter of the all important Game 3 that I just couldn't miss.
The Blazers lost that game. And as all of us in Blazer Nation know, we also lost that series to the Lakers in 7 games. Even further, we all know that was the last time we made it past the 1 st round of the playoffs. I felt like Josh's death, and my refusal to leave the game, put some kind of hex on the Blazers for me forever. I couldn't watch them after that.
I was a lifelong Blazer fan. After Josh died, I didn't watch a game, I didn't read a web article, I didn't watch a news story if it involved the Blazers in any way. I didn't know who was on the team, or what their record was. I didn't want to know. All the pain and hurt of the tragedy was attached to that team. My heart hurt to even think about the Blazers.
Sometime during the 2006-2007 season, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to a Blazer game with him. I immediately put my wall up and said "oh no, no no no, no Blazers." He asked me why, and I gave him the shorthand of the story I have just told you now. What he said in response to me, I will never forget.
He asked me why I would want to let go of something so special that Josh and I had shared? I thought about that for a moment, and eventually reasoned with myself that it wasn't that I was letting go something special, I was hiding from something painful. Who wouldn't want to hide from something as painful as that? He asked me if I really thought Josh would want me depriving my life of something that brought such joy to our childhood, that united us in such a bond together. I honestly had never thought about it that way. For the past 6 years, I had been turning my back on something that was such a huge part of not only my life, but his life, because of the guilt that I carried over what happened that night.
I decided to go to that game. And as painful as that first moment was, walking through the doors into the lower bowl of the arena, it was all worth it in the end.
Josh would have wanted me to be a Blazer fan. He would have wanted me to enjoy this part of my life and all the happiness and excitement (and yes, disappointment) that it brings. Every time I scream loud at a game, yell at the TV, or get into a trash talking battle with a fan from the other team, I'm doing it not only for me, but for the both of us.
The Portland Trail Blazers, for me, is a part of the lost life of one of the people I loved most in this world. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am a Blazer fan.