Sometimes, when you look out your window at the world around you, nature is the perfect expression of your emotions. It’s a weird feeling, but in some ways, it’s comforting. Sometimes it feels as though Mother Nature has heard your heart and responded in kind, as if to say, “I understand.”
This morning, as I sip my coffee and look out my window, Chicago looks an awful lot like Portland — grey, low clouds, and fog. In a heartbreaking way, it’s perfect.
See, I grew up in Portland — that quirky, individual little town that runs on coffee and microbrews that’s tucked away in the Willamette Valley between the Cascade Range — dominated by Mt. Hood, — and the Oregon Coast. It’s not the beach — we don’t call it that up there. Beaches are warm. The Oregon Coast is not a beach. Things tend to run a little slower in Portland. Your cashier at the Sellwood New Seasons Market, cloaked in flannel and tattoos, might take about five minutes to bag your locally grown organic produce while telling you about their newest hemp-based products.
Portland isn’t a sports town — it’s a Blazers town. The team is rooted in the fabric of that crazy city, with their black-and-red color palette lending itself all too easily to the buffalo check plaids that adorn seemingly every closet in Rip City. A bar named “Spirit of ‘77,” named after the franchise’s lone NBA Championship in, you guessed it, 1977, sits a few blocks from their stadium. Currently known to many as the “Moda Center,” it will always be the Rose Garden.
We’re used to being the underdogs. We always have been. Our little town has never been able to attract the big-name free agents, which has left us at a disadvantage on the court in an era of super teams. As our Blazers struggled through the 2011-2012 lockout-shortened season to an 11th-place finish in the Western Conference with a 28-38 record, we fans were frustrated. We had a young Lamarcus Aldridge and some other pieces, like Nicholas Batum and Wesley Matthews. We also had Raymond Felton, but we don’t talk about him. We felt, as a fanbase, like our team was wildly underperforming.
With the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, our Blazers selected a point guard out of Weber State University named Damian Lillard. From the jump, we saw flashes of brilliance. Lillard won Rookie Of the Year in the 2012-2013 season with 19.0 points and 6.5 assists per game, while breaking the record for the most three-pointers made in a rookie season. Portland was in love.
We had our superstar.
In 2014, in his second season, Lillard led Portland from 11th-place in the West for the second straight year, to finishing fifth in the west and making the playoffs. In the first round against the Houston Rockets, Lillard gave Portland fans the greatest shot in franchise history.
It was the first playoff series win for the Blazers in 14 years.
Nine years since being drafted, and we love Logo Lillard more than ever. Despite never making an NBA Finals appearance, Lillard has given us passion, culture, a team identity, and character. He has given everything to this franchise, and the franchise has failed him.
If this is the end of Lillard era in Portland, as rumors that he is set to request a trade in the coming days begin to swirl, then it’s a heartbreaking moment for Rip City. It’s more than a missed opportunity for a fanbase that has been craving another title — it’s the end of a relationship between a town and an idol.
If he never puts on that Trail Blazers jersey again, Lillard will walk away from Portland as the franchise leader in three-pointers made and points per game, and will finish second behind Clyde Drexler in points and free throws made, and third in assists.
Lillard means more to this town than just being a good basketball player. He has pressed into and embodied an underdog mentality that all of Rip City has come to know all too well. He is one of ours. From NBA Draft to superstardom, I could not be more proud of what Lillard has given this team.
I will save my visceral fury for general manager Neil Olshey for another time.
In the end, I will not be angry with Lillard for leaving. He gave everything to a franchise that has failed to put him in a position to win. If he does move on, then I so deeply hope that he can get the championship ring that he richly deserves. No matter how it unfolds in the coming days, it will always be Dame Time in Portland.