One Team, One Dream

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January 19, 2012 by David Gillaspie

(originally filed with oregonsportsnews.com)

Dreaming the dream in the Rose Garden

When you hear the word ‘window’, it usually means dirty window and you’re just the one to clean it. The next thing you know you’ve got a rag in one hand and Windex in the other.

Sports fans hear the word differently. To them, a window is a good thing. It’s better when used in the sentence, “the window for a championship is opening in the next few years.”

That’s a window of hope.

Portland started hearing window-talk when Greg Oden joined Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. It felt like a parlor window in the Pittock Mansion with the city stretching golden as far as the Cascade Mountains. They were the new legends taking the Blazers to more finals and finishing the job Clyde and Terry started.

Portland went to sleep each night with crystal clear vision. The state of Oregon would rejoice in shouting the words World Champion Portland Trail Blazers year after year. But the window slammed shut so hard the leaded glass shattered, along with the dream of answering one question from out of state friends, “How ’bout those Blazers?”

The pain of the window shutting on the Trail Blazers makes you wonder if all the fans had their fingers on the sill. And they did. From the 300 level seats with the cement head rest, to the all you can eat Lexus Level, to court side, every fan in the Rose Garden took one across the knuckles. Every fan following online, in the Oregonian, and on television felt the crush.

The best way to deal with a broken window is fix it. You can use duct tape and plastic, regular glass, or check the material used when an even bigger window broke a sash cord and dropped on sports dreams. That guillotine was the biggest chopper of the early Blazer years.

After only two NBA seasons, Portland draft picks captured two Rookie of the Year honors. Geoff Petrie shared the award in 1971, Sidney Wicks in ’72. With a Princeton sharpshooter and a UCLA flyer, the Blazers finished last in the league just in time to draft Bill Walton in ’74.

Which window opened and slammed shut faster, Walton, Wicks, and Petrie, or Roy, Aldridge, and Oden?

With all the anticipation of great things at the Rose Garden, does it match the early years of Blazerdom in the Memorial Coliseum?

How often does a team draft a golden boy who stays golden like Petrie?

Who gets a chance to draft another dominant player the next year, then one of the best big men of the era while the first two hit their prime? That’s what Portland did with Petrie, Sidney Wicks, and Bill Walton. Does a guard, a power forward and a big man set to fire up the NBA sound familiar?

There’s Sidney Wicks at UCLA playing in the gap years between Lew Alcindor, soon to be Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Bill Walton. Their front court of Wicks, Curtis Rowe and 6’9″ Steve Patterson had the look of a rebuilding program. If they lost to teams with dominant big men, it wouldn’t be a shock.

All the smaller UCLA team did was win national championships, one against Jacksonville University and twin towers Artis Gilmore and Pembrook Burrows III. There was no way the Bruins would leave the NCAA tournament with the trophy, but they did. Wicks was the big man among bigger men.

When he came to Portland, the winning would continue. The foundation was laid. Two guys win Rookie of the Year? How could they miss? The basketball gods had to be lining up as Blazers. Then Walton joins them? It was the perfect mix.

After attitudes and trades turned the perfect storm into a dust devil, lightning struck. Petrie and Wicks were gone for the 76-77 season, but Walton’s new teammates jelled at the right time and beat Philadelphia in the finals. After one championship banner it felt like more on the way, a lot more.

Portland was ready, but it wasn’t in the cards. Portland is still ready.

The Portland Trail Blazers today aren’t the same team imagined when Roy and LA showed up in the same draft.

When Oden came aboard it felt like old times. Blazer fans felt the magic. This was a group who would age together like the Celtics during the 60’s, and Jordan’s Bulls. Those players knew what their teammates would do before they did it. Their fans grew to expect passes no one else made, an impossible assist followed by a circus shot that ended game sevens.

When that happens often enough you know there’s a bigger element in play. One more time the basketball gods were ready to dance and party with a Blazer team full of more chemistry than an MIT lab. That Blazer team never matured the way it should have, leaving Portland fans empty handed.

LA, Roy, and Oden wore jerseys custom made for hanging in the rafters after their multi-year championship run. What happened?

Cruel fate.

Is it fair to judge teams solely on championships? It is for the ‘over-view’ sports fan sharing their opinions on Yankees, Cowboys, and Celtics. Dominant teams over time become name brands. They play with the intensity of expectations. They have a legacy to protect. And they are easy to cheer for. Listening to those fans makes you wonder if they know anything about the Bronx, Dallas, or Boston.

The Blazers have something more important to play for. If athletes don’t know it before they get here, they find a bottomless well of support. One time GM Bob Whittset put together teams that tested the bottom and pulled less than sellout crowds, but that changed.

The guys on the floor today didn’t get mentoring classes from Rasheed ‘Cut The Check’ Wallace, or an embrace from the Hoops Family. They learned this is where a former head coach helped a little girl sing the Star Spangled Banner. At the same time, they learned this is a Portland ready to occupy a championship run.

The question fans ask in certain circles is the same asked about every team in every sport: How good are these guys? Today it’s all about Kobe in Los Angeles, not Magic. Derrick Rose, the MVP in Chicago, is giving fans amnesia on MJ.

Which Blazers will do the same in Portland? Who will climb the list of all-time Blazers? LaMarcus is on the list now. There’s still room on the Rose Garden roof for more titles and more numbers to hang. The window might look closed, but the latch isn’t fastened. Each game it inches upward. How long will it take to open wide again?

Blazer fans know to expect hidden destiny. They are patient with the right process, and each game moves the excitement needle. With the ball in the right hands, anything is possible here.

That, sports fans, is the dream.

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