Behind the Scenes: Trail Blazers Practice Facility
The building is nondescript. If the Blazers’ team name weren’t on the front, it would completely mesh in with the nearby warehouses—all hidden by a huge gate and a grove of trees separating them from I-5. No Blazer fan would ever guess that an NBA team holds practices in this area of Portland, much less Tualatin.
I don’t go through the front door. Media people have their own side entrance to the left, which is barely marked by a small sign. My boss opens the door for me. I’m inside.
We’re now in a small alcove just adjacent to the Blazers’ basketball court complex. It’s marked off specifically for the media. We get to leave our coats, briefcases, and anything else extra right here on the blue tables. There are also laptop plugins for quick and easy transfer of source material. Pictures of Blazer greats, such as Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler, Arvydas Sabonis, and Jerome Kersey adorn the walls.
And just in front of me, a door is open, and I can see the two full-length regulation basketball courts adorned with the Blazer colors and the logo at center court. Above the baskets, there are also a total of four game clocks with working shot clocks. Replicas of the Blazers’ championship and division title banners, retired jersey number banners, and a huge “Trail Blazers” logo sign surround this often-seen-on-TV but never-actually-experienced part of this franchise.
The team’s practice has just ended. The entire team is in a circle in the middle. Half of the players have white practice jerseys while the rest have black. A couple coaches say things I can’t hear, probably words of encouragement. Then they back off, and each player puts a hand in the middle.
“On three, together. One, two, three…”
Thus ends formal practice. The players break apart. All but a few continue to work with assistant coaches on drills and shooting while the others leave.
And now Jason, my boss, beckons me through the door, and onto the nearer court.
I follow. Now I’m actually standing on the court.
This is too good to be true. I’ve waited for this since I was 7 years old, and now it’s finally happening.
We sit on a single bench facing the courts. Most of the players are shooting free throws or three-pointers. Ronnie Price and Joel Freeland are just yards away from me. J.J. Hickson’s lying down on the ground stretching and cracking several jokes. Damian Lillard, arguably the Blazers’ best rookie player in their history, is sitting in a chair just behind him.
They are all so close to me.
Suddenly a coach shouts, “27!” Another writes the number down in a notebook. Ronnie Price has just made 27 three-pointers in just minutes right in front of me and the rest of the local media. I can’t believe he’s able to ignore all of us as we chat and wait for Jay Triano, the Blazers’ lead assistant, to come over for questions. He’s doing this instead of head coach Terry Stotts, who apparently is sick today.
I have a voice recorder and go with the rest of the media to get audio off a handheld voice recorder. I don’t ask him any questions, but I’m doing what I’m supposed to, which is recording his answers to others.
Ronnie Price is now inches from me, but he’s still shooting threes. Luke Babbitt is to the far right shooting threes on his own and making most of them with ease.
The weight room is off to the far right past another door, and LaMarcus Aldridge is working out briefly with another coach’s assistance. I know the facility has a lot more rooms, and that this is all I’m going to get to see, but trust me…all of this by itself is definitely more than enough.
My heart soon skips a beat. Jay Triano suddenly turns to me and says, “You’re from Linfield?”
I recover quickly and answer in the affirmative. We start having this informal conversation about Linfield’s amazing football team! (I got it all recorded discreetly, too!) Nice guy, still can’t believe he actually talked to me!
On the far court, Nolan Smith is shooting threes and Will Barton is taking shorter jumpers. Surprisingly, Nolan’s making plenty of those. If only he could do that in actual games…
My boss, Jason, knows the media crowd. He’s making small talk with most of the journalists because he knows them, and I follow behind and contribute to the conversations when I can. Several of the people I meet are Abby Chin, the former host of Talkin’ Ball on Comcast who now works for the Boston Celtics, (she half-jokes that she was expecting Kevin Garnett to meet her at the airport…) Chris Haynes from Talkin’ Ball, and Dwight Jaynes, also from Talkin’ Ball and a prominent print reporter on the Blazers with the Oregonian and Portland Tribune since the 1980’s. I respect Jaynes’ work a lot, so this really means a lot to actually see him.
Now comes the interview with LaMarcus. Everyone in media has been waiting for him to finish working on post-up drills with J.J. and Jared Jeffries for quite a while now because of his sprained elbow. It doesn’t seem that long to me, of course. I’m still in a partial daze. These tall guys look like giants up-close!
Finally he comes over and stands under a side basket. I come over with my voice recorder and hold the mike by his mouth, as I did with Triano. This is crazy. The video cameras for KGW News and Comcast are right over my head. I can see the reflection of all this in a glass window behind everything.
And at this moment, I truly feel like I belong. This is what I want to do for a living—broadcasting and reporting sports.
I have arrived.
Life is just too good.