As to be expected in Portland, several thousand Blazers fans skipped school and work on June 29th, 2007 to join in the festivities welcoming Greg Oden to Rip City. Priorities are a wee-bit different around here, as this is the city where young people go to retire.
In sports, I’m a sucker for two things: an underdog story and a redemption story. I’m drawn to those that are down on their luck or those clawing their way back onto their feet when they fall. If I have a rooting interest in the team that the underdog or redemption-seeker is on, then just forget it. The sentiment just increases tenfold. Sometimes it works out. But sometimes life’s a bitch, and there just isn’t any justice when it comes to my wishful thinking. Which brings us to the purpose of this post, which is a long time coming: Mr. Greg Oden.
You see, amigos, I’m a big Portland Trail Blazers fan. When the Blazers landed the #1 pick I can tell you where I was (at work in the San Fernando Valley, at the end of the day), how I found out about the Lottery win (I went onto ESPN.com to see if they stayed at #7 to land Thaddeus Young), what I did when I realized they had landed the #1 pick (yelped in disbelief, leapt from my seat, and told my boss I was leaving early), and what I did the rest of the evening (called everyone I knew from back home, and yapped on the phone for no less than three straight hours).
That was a good day. I’ll just remember it as such.
At this point we all know how the rest played out. Everyone says it was Bowie 2.0. Nope. When Bowie wasn’t panning out, the Blazers traded him to New Jersey for a Power Forward named Buck Williams…who only became one of the most beloved players in Portland’s franchise history. Oden got waived to make room for Shawne Williams after the Gerald Wallace trade. Sweet Jesus, that’s a depressing start to this post. But (spoiler alert!) if Oden comes back I will root for a redemption, a comeback story, a colossal F-YOU to his naysayers – but only if he signs with any team other than the Heat. The Heat don’t provide the karmic retribution you’re seeking Greg! Don’t fall into the temptation!
Greetings, Gregory. I promise you fame and fortune. But more importantly, I promise you vengeance upon all those who doubted you. Join ME, Darth Wade, Darth James, and Darth Bosh. I will give you one year minimum contract. You’re welcome. Sincerely, Pat Riley
What this whole weblog is really about is a delayed response to a Grantland.com piece by Mark Titus. It was, I must say, legit. Very well done, indeed. That said, there are a couple of clarifications that must be addressed. Let’s address them in bullet format shall we? (Note: when I speak of Greg Oden, I will refer to him on a first name basis, because that’s just how Blazers fans do things…or at least that’s how my mom does it. And she is was a season ticket holder. So there.)
1). Mark Titus (who earned infinity cool points for his Club Trillion blog while at Ohio State, and for his Rainmaker YouTube video) did the radio interview circuit after his story got posted. The feedback he received was that everyone liked it, except for Portland fans who are bitter. I’m sure he knows this, but bozos that tweet garbage at journalists, or athletes, or any celeb, don’t represent an entire fanbase. As someone that was in Portland when his article got published and spoke to many diehard Blazers fans, the responses I got were the following:
a). “That guy (Greg) can’t catch a break.”
b). Sit in silence, shake head depressingly.
Any implication that Portland fans are bitter is completely accurate. But not towards Greg. We’re all just pissed at that nasty little bitch we call FATE.
2). Not sure if this needs clarification, as Titus never mentioned the fans in this little tidbit, but whatever. I’m gonna do it anyways. As a fanbase that dissects every monotonous detail about the franchise, their management, their players and everything in between – to think that we haven’t considered the quality of the training staff is absurd. The thought has floated around for quite some time. Since Greg’s downfall and Brandon Roy needing to retire at 26, the thought still lingers but with the stench of a silent gasser laid by a drunken old man who just feasted on a deviled egg buffet.
Greg: I think I know the problem. Your knees aren’t healing quickly enough because they’re weak. They’re brittle. My suggestion: smash a hammer on them before you do any exercise. It will toughen them up. Also, take up smoking. It will curb your appetite during rehabilitation.
3). And here’s the quote from Titus’ piece that flabbergasted many. Greg’s quote about Portland not being an ideal spot “for a young African American man with money”. Many folks seemed confused by this statement. Titus, when asked about it during radio interviews, said that he was confused as well. He asked Greg to elaborate, to which he replied, “I’ll just leave it at that.” I won’t try to decipher his statement, but let’s just point out some facts:
a). Portland is a progressive and eclectic city. It’s also very white. The mention of this may cause my fellow whiteys to get fidgety and/or ornery. But if you’re a minority and coming to a city with little diversity (as nice and free and accepting as they may be) it would be understandable if it caused some discomfort if it’s not something you’re used to. That said, I will pontificate on one matter. I think Greg was overcomplicating the reason for it being a tough place to be. The simplest answer: PORTLAND IS A TOUGH PLACE TO BE IF YOU’RE EXPECTED TO BE A FRANCHISE SAVIOR BEFORE YOU EVER PLAYED A GAME, AND YOU ARE THE MOST RECOGNIZABLE GUY IN THE STATE.
b). Portland’s fans, they’re great (obvi, because I’m one of them). But we overanalyze everything, we know way too much about all of our players, we overhype them, and even as grown ass men we buy their jerseys. So it’s easy to guess that we recognize them when they’re out in public, and we consider them one of our own. If Travis Outlaw were approached in the streets, guess what would happen to a 7 footer who also happened to be the best big man prospect since Lew Alcindor? No matter what, there was never a place to hide. If things were going well, that would be one thing. But with injuries and disappointments, that’s another. It’s not that people were mean to Greg. They were probably annoyingly supportive, and their “encouragement” often had a pressure-filled undertone. Nobody wanted him to be the next Sam Bowie. They wanted him to be the next Bill Russell. My assumption is that no matter how nice they tried to be, that desperation would show through in the tone of their voices, or how they ended conversations (my favorite conversation ender, as told by a friend that overheard this at a bar one night after an unknown fan offered some unsolicited advice: “Don’t let us down”). When he got hurt, the burdensome history of the franchise fell on his ability to recover. And when there’s just one professional team in town…good luck trying to escape that talk.
c). Finally, Portland’s media, they’re awesome. They dig deep for a story, they get a good gauge on the mood of the team, have terrific insight, all that stuff. But they are also batshit freaking crazy, especially with the Blazers. Introverted Down On His Luck Franchise Savior + Batshit Crazy Reporters = Not A Good Combo. For goodness sake, Greg had to do a rush hour radio interview about his cockshot the day it was leaked. A beat reporter did a “behind the scenes” piece that referenced Greg taking a dump
. Good God, man. Are no things sacred? I get what these guys are trying to do: connect a small community with their team, but these would be embarrassing moments for an extrovert.
We don’t really need to use the toilet. We just heard that Greg Oden is in there. It’s okay, we’re reporters. We have credentials and everything. We have a right to be here.
My point is, Portland isn’t a bad place to be. It’s just different. And if a once in a generation super-talent is struggling and seeking privacy, it would be hard to get that around here. It’s not because you’re young and African American and rich. It’s because you were our Russell. And when the wheels started coming off, everyone started panicking or moping or talking about Sam Bowie, which probably didn’t help.
Alas, it didn’t work out in Portland, Greg. I wouldn’t blame you if you never came back, but someday I hope you do. Maybe our franchise is run by jackasses (duh). Maybe the trainers only read Encyclopedias from the 1950’s, and don’t have internet access. Maybe the team, the reporters, the overwhelming high expectations of the city were overbearing. I don’t know. But the fans always liked you and rooted for you, whether you were hurt or not. And based on the conversations I’ve had around town, that sentiment will remain the same when you land on a new team.
So as a Blazers fan, I mean this. Go get healthy. If your health allows, sign with another team. Be a contributor. Define your own legacy. Go to the Suns or Pacers or whatever place gives you the best chance to succeed. But please. For the love of God. Don’t sign with the Heat.
So what? This pic was taken while he was at Ohio State. But this proves one thing: he’ll always look best in red and white (that’s my stretch to say he’ll always look best in a Blazers uni, you big condescending jerks!)