SPORTS

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November 26, 2002

Something foul in the Rose City

I am in pain. A great sorrow has overtaken me. I feel that things will not get better. I feel mired in an inescapable and destructive cycle. I am a Portland Trailblazers fan. This column is my lament; it is a cry for cessation of the cruelty that the sport of basketball shows me.

My pain goes back to the 1990 NBA Playoffs. I wandered in front of a television as the Blazers and Spurs were battling in the Western Conference semifinals. Game seven. Overtime. Wonderment overtook my youthful expression as the poetry of basketball filled the screen. The drama and the excitement enthralled me. The Blazers won. I was hooked.

In the Western conference finals the Blazers dispatched the Phoenix Suns, and, for the first time since 1977, they advanced to the NBA Finals. I was young, though. I had no memory of the lengthy sabbatical from competing for an NBA Championship. For me, the Blazers were always a winning team. I had no comprehension of the past.

In the Finals the Blazers played the defending champion Detroit Pistons. The Blazers were my team already. With the fervor of a convert I cheered for them. The Pistons won the first game easily. Isiah Thomas; Joe Dumars; Vinnie Johnson: these were my enemies now. How could they presume to crush the hopes of this 9-year-old? Revenge. The Blazers won the second game. Home court advantage was ours. Bill Laimbeer. He was another enemy. Flopping and drawing fouls; I could act better than that. Why did he convince the referees so easily? The enemy of the Blazers. My enemy.

High hopes. The Blazers returned to Portland with home court advantage. The title was in our grasp. We simply had to defend home court. Tragedy. We could not. Three times in a row. My family went to Minnesota for vacation. I huddled under the covers and listened to the tragic defeat. Like that, it was over, and I was numb. I did not know how to classify the pit I felt in my stomach. It could only be filled by one thing: a championship for my team. The Blazers.

The next season pitted the LA Lakers against my team in the Western Conference finals. Down 3-2, game six, waning moments, down by a single point: the Blazers are on a fast break, ready to send the series back to Portland for a seventh game. Cliff Robinson is alone under the basket. He is going to score. We are going to win. We are going to win. We are going to win. I blink, and we are still down. Cliff had dropped the ball. No pressure on him. Not from the Lakers' defense, anyway. Just the hopes and dreams of fans--like me--dropped into the abyss we inhabit to this day. Magic Johnson runs up the court, triumphantly waving an index finger. Number one! Number one! I was supposed to give that cry. Not him. Me. Why?

1992. In the Finals again. Breezed through the playoffs. Competing for the NBA Championship. We can handle the Bulls. The way it was always supposed to be. Nice. Again, we take the home court advantage with a game two victory. The way it was always supposed to be. We're going to defend our home court, of course. The way it was always supposed to be. The Blazers are champions. I am a champion because I am their fan. We lose game three. We are not champions. That's fine. We'll just win in Chicago one more time. Jordan isn't all that great. Game four. I got tickets for my birthday. I am at the NBA Finals. One of 11,888 people in attendance. We win. I am a believer again. We are champions. The way it was always supposed to be. Game four loss. Back to Chicago. Up big. Get ready for Game Seven. That's what Phil Jackson says as he pulls his starters to rest them for the big one. No, really. Please, get ready for a Game Seven. The Chicago bench brings the Bulls back. They win. The Blazers lose. The pit remains.

Six years of first round exits. The pit grows. But wait, we're champions again. No, we're not. Sean Elliot kills us this time. The Spurs. Western conference finals. Memorial Day Miracle. Catastrophe. But it will not prepare me for the next season.

Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals. Against the Lakers. Again. Up by 15 going into the 4th quarter. They are champions. They are champions. We are champions. I AM A CHAMPION. I am a champion watching his lead slip away. We are champions. No, we aren't. I thought the pit was being filled. Instead dynamite was being lowered down to make the pit larger. Alley-oop to Shaquille O'Neal. Blazers are down and out. They've dropped it. Here comes Shaq running down the court. Index finger raised. Number one. Number one. Was that Shaq or was that Magic? Either way, it was supposed to be me.

Since then we have not been the same. The Blazers are shaken. I am shaken. We cannot believe. We are a bad basketball team. Our soul has been trampled. We have no soul, and you can see it in how we play. What's the point? Now we will try anything we can to win. But we want it so bad that we cannot grasp it. We have three point guards. None of them played more than 15 minutes in our last game. Our best player doesn't want to shoot the ball. We are in disarray. We are champions. No, we're not.

Shall my pain cease? Or can I really even feel it any more? I will cheer for us: the Blazers and myself. When they win, my heart will rise up, in order to be trampled down by mismanagement, poor chemistry, and a team with a soul that has been ripped out. It wants victory so bad that it is afraid to represent that desire. We have no desire. We only want to be champions. We are champions. No, we're not.