At first glance August 18, 2011 was just an ordinary Portland day. The elusive mid-August sun broke through the morning cloud cover around noon, construction cones seemed to be on every corner and the downtown food carts were mobbed with the usual lunch rush. But if you were in the vicinity of Pioneer Square you knew there was something different...
As you rode the MAX or walked the streets toward the red brick plaza you couldn’t help but notice the increasing numbers of Trail Blazers fans. But again... there was something different about them. After a few minutes of scratching your head with wonder you figure it out. You’re in a late-90s fashion time warp. You’re surrounded by old-school number 11 jerseys, tie-dyed Lithuanian tees and CCCP jerseys. Then it really hits you.
A smile spreads across your face as you approach the square and see thousands of Trail Blazers fans swarming the stage. Goosebumps fly up your arms as you see a 7-3 figure loom above the crowd and you know you’re about to witness something special.
Your ordinary August day just became extraordinary.
You wander through the crowd and catch glimpses of former Trail Blazers Brian Grant, Chris Dudley and Antonio Harvey. Then the familiar voices of Mike Barrett and Mike Rice catch your ear. BlazerDancers litter the crowd and you see Blaze the Trail Cat posing for pictures with other fans.
Then it starts. Drums pounding. Hands clapping. Yelps of excitement rip through the crowd as Sabonis descends through the amphitheater to the stage. A hush falls over the crowd as Barrett introduces the much beloved Trail Blazer and your neighbors erupt in applause and cheers!
Over the next 20 minutes you share the once-in-a-lifetime rally experience with friends, family and other fans you’ve just met. Debra excitedly tells you, “I loved watching him play! I loved it! I think he’s a good man and I’m glad he came back so we can say hi.”
You laugh at the right jokes. You clap and cheer at the right moments. And you gasp as the Hall of Fame banner with Sabonis’ name is revealed for the first time. Through it all the cheek-burning grin doesn’t move an inch. You’ve witnessed and indescribable moment in Trail Blazers history.
As the rally comes to a close and the crowd disperses you have one last conversation with two other fans, Vincent and his dad Shawn. Vincent confesses Sabonis was his childhood hero as Shawn tells you about a website they developed to honor the smooth-passing center. “We made an HTML site that we never put online called The Church of Arvydas Sabonis.”
It’s that moment the heart-felt expression of other fans hits you and you start to fully grasp the gravity of the rally. You’re not the only one the humble European has influenced. He made an imprint on the heart of Rip City, just as your passion did on him.
A last look at Sabonis leaves you with a final thought. Thank you Arvydas. Thank you for being one of us.
Watch the Arvydas Sabonis rally in its entirety here
. And check out photos from the rally here