I first moved to Portland in 1989, and the team had just secured Buck Williams as their starting forward, and the remaining pieces from good Trail Blazer teams in the 80's were here (Kersey, Drexler, Porter, Duckworth) plus a newly drafted Cliff Robinson. While the team was expected to do well, I got indoctrinated into Blazer Mania immediately as the team went all the way to the NBA Finals. While the team had talent on the floor, there was a passion and flair with which they played that impressed me.
Chemistry is a hard term to define, but to me, it means not only having talent and drive but you also care about your fellow teammates and are willing to do things to make them better. Chemistry also means taking this attitude to everyone you meet and everything you do. The Trail Blazers of the early 90's exemplified that with a long playoff run in 91 and another Finals run in 92. The team still had some successes in subsequent seasons, but the trouble started with firing Rick Adelman as coach. Most of the players were traded away from this era, and the team under new management started to rebuild. The final nail was Drexler being traded away to Houston and finally getting his championship ring with the Rockets.
The Trail Blazers were assembling a very talented team, but it became apparent that things were different in dealing with the fans and media. The team became distant and harder to understand, and the management moved to Seattle and remotely managed the team under the utmost secrecy. But the funny thing was the team was still winning, so many of the danger signs weren't apparent because winning will make people overlook stuff.
When the team made other playoff runs in 2000 and 2001, it brought back the Blazer Mania passion of the city until a fourth quarter against our hated rivals the Lakers. Instead of bringing the team back as a whole, there was more roster tinkering which led to harsh words and bad attitude. Over the next few years, the team imploded with malcontents, problems with the law, drug arrests, and the things labeling the team the Jail Blazers.
New management wanted to turn the corner, but it wasn't until the new coach Nate McMillian and new GM Kevin Pritchard were on board that you saw huge changes. They wanted to build a team that was bigger than themselves, and hearken back to the old Trail Blazer days of the 70s and 80s, and they set up a plan to build a team of solid talented guys who wanted to be part of something bigger and give back to the team and the town. And their plan couldn't have worked any better.
The parallels to old glory teams is apparent, as the core guys Aldridge, Roy, Blake, Webster, Frye, Pryzbilla, Sergio, Jarrett, Jones, and Outlaw have come together amazingly. The youngest team in the NBA has a 13 game winning streak to their credit, and currently own a 12 game home winning streak, doing it completely under the radar from most fans. But in hearing more about the team, you hear about their talent but also the community events, interaction with fans, and the genuine care they have for each other. This team loves playing basketball with each other, and the results show on the court. Like any fan, it's frustrating when they don't play to their potential, but right now, I wouldn't trade this team for anything.
The Portland Timbers, my other team I love, went through a similar renaissance this year after a dismal 2006 season with a coach who lacked direction and a team that struggled to find its chemistry. A new coach came in, players started believing in themselves and each other, and the results led to an undefeated home record. While chemistry in school wasn't one of my better subject, I love watching great chemistry unfold on the court and the field. Here's to 2008, where the playoffs aren't just a goal for the Timbers and Trail Blazers, but a reality..
- I read my post about Blaze yesterday and the kid's interaction and realized that I significantly downplayed the kid's action. The tail tugging in the fourth quarter was an attempt to spin him around by his tail not once, not twice, but three times. I'm all for mascots getting ribbed a bit and poked/prodded, but I draw the line at attempting to harm them. I must be getting soft in my older age.
- As of today, the Trail Blazers are in first place in the Northwest division. They haven't been in first place in any division for 7 years, so this is huge. Yes, they are going on a 7 game almost 2 week road trip starting on Sunday in Toronto, but right now I don't care. My team is in first place.