Originally I planned to write tonight’s story about the guards stepping up. In Portland’s first two games forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace carried the team to victory—they were the only two players to score 20-plus points in either contest. I’d mapped it all out in my head and narrowed my focus to this: Wesley Matthews nailed some huge shots that sparked a fourth quarter in which only three guards scored all 28 Trail Blazers points. He’d lit the fire and Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton got some burn.
That’s what I was going to write about.
Instead, I’ll tell you about what happened post-game in the locker room. I think it’s a story you’ll appreciate much more.
I made the rounds to the lockers of Matthews, Crawford and Felton looking to hear their thoughts on how they’d gelled on the floor and pushed the Trail Blazers to a win. Wesley gave me fantastic quotes about the three getting familiar with each other and how knocking down big shots was contagious. Everything was going according to my plan until he said something that just about knocked me off my heels. Five words hidden in an explanation of shooting patterns: “we play for each other.”
This may not strike some of you as it did me, and it’s hard to explain why I was so taken with the phrase, but if you could have heard the way he said it...
He’d been leaned back in his chair during the bulk of his media session, relaxed and nonchalant like he usually is. As I spoke to him after the scrum dispersed he maintained the posture and used the same tone of voice. But as he said those words, “we play for each other,”
he shifted. He leaned forward and looked me straight in the eyes like he’d never uttered a truer phrase.
The NBA is a business, we all know that. Individual talents mesh into a system to produce wins in the NBA season juggernaut. Guys go to practice, they bond with their teammates, they play night in and night out, and they show us their passion for the game. In the end it’s a job.
Very rarely group bonds are formed that stray from the normal working friendship. But sometimes, just sometimes, lightning strikes. It becomes about more than one or two guys. It becomes about the team.
I’ve told you about Wesley, and how pleasantly surprised I was with his candid description of the special camaraderie of the Trail Blazers. If you liked his description, you won’t be disappointed with the next stop on my rounds.
I crossed the locker room to Crawford. As he was talking to other media members I took a few moments to process what Wesley had told me and how it was going to fit into my piece about the guards. When the crowd cleared I asked Jamal questions similar to what I’d asked Wesley and heard asked to Felton.
Again, I was completely unprepared for the answer I got.
“The chemistry we have here is rare, honestly. I’ve been on other teams, and we
[Portland] all play for each other
,” Crawford said. “LaMarcus will be an All-Star this year, Gerald’s been a All-Star and may be an All-Star again, Raymond’s a top-level point guard, I won sixth man, Wes is one of the more underrated players in the league. So we have a lot of capable guys, but we all play for each other
I couldn’t believe I’d just heard the same words. I was stunned.
Even as I sit here in the office, attempting to express to you what was shared with me I’m in awe.
As an invested fan of this team it’s about more than just the wins and losses. I’m sure it’s the same for many of you. We’re here because not only do we love basketball, but we’ve become invested in the men that wear our colors. The character of these guys is just as important as their shooting percentages. We share the ups and downs. We feel the agony of defeat and the elation of success.
The five words shared by one new Trail Blazer and one old spoke to what Trail Blazers fans feel collectively, we play for each other