Nobody is happier today than a Portland Trail Blazer fan, nobody. OK, maybe Kevin Everett, but that's the only exception you get.
|Brandon Roy and friends have lots to shout about lately. (AP)|
But while the Golden State Warriors may have waited longer to revivify their place in the NBA, and while the normally woebegone Atlanta Hawks might be the flavor of the month in the still-pretty-wretched Eastern Conference, it's the Blazers who have the best reason to feel the feel -- not just in the NBA, but in sports in general.
They have everything rolling again -- a captive audience, Brandon Roy, the promise of Greg Oden, no competition, no media feuds and, best of all, nobody on the roster currently scheduled for arraignment.
And that's the only reference to the Jail Blazers we'll be making here. One, it's a cliché, and two, the team has gone to extraordinary lengths to repel the notion that talent and character are mutually exclusive.
No, what the Blazers have going on is unique because they stand alone in a town that once loved them, then came to hate them, and now loves them again. And when we say standing alone, we mean it. Only one Division I basketball team within an hour's drive (Portland), no pro anything else unless you want to count the lacrosse Lumberjax, and the Winter Hawks junior hockey team ... that leaves a wide field that is unmatched in sport. Green Bay has Milwaukee, Ottawa has the CFL, Salt Lake City has Utah and Utah State ... but the Blazers are essentially it.
More to the point, they spent the past several years teaching America how to destroy a franchise. Losing was bad enough, the crime thing was worse, and the open-sore feud with the Oregonian, Portland's million-ton media elephant -- all of it testified to a tin-eared operation seemingly hell-bent on actively offending every person in town.
But between the much-encouraged firing of general manager Steve Patterson in March, the winning of the best pingpong ball in the NBA Draft lottery and the subsequent selection of Greg Oden, the Blazers thought they were on to something. That subsided when Oden went down with microfractures in his right knee, but Oden remained a fixture in the community, and the team went on without him -- slightly older, true, but still the third-youngest team in NBA history, and now with someone other than Oden to love in Roy.
Taken in and of themselves, none of these items is that special, but when combined, the Blazers trump every other hot-team-warms-cold-town story you've got. Sunday's Oregonian, for example, devoted a large chunk of its Sunday cover to a huge picture of head coach Nate McMillan, who was neither wearing a Santa hat, rescuing kittens from a burning building nor buying toys for the economically repressed.
Oh, and the words "under" and "fire" never appeared.
True, this probably makes the people of Portland particularly vulnerable suckers. The team has played fewer than 30 games, and is tied only for seventh in the West with Golden State, last year's prettiest stagehand.
On the other hand, having a roster with no real history means that the town got the clean start it wanted after the tooth-grinding nightmares of the Patterson and Bob Whitsitt eras (well, Patterson lasted a year, so "era" is probably stretching it a bit), and having it succeed without its top pick, and having it smile while it does so -- man, it doesn't get better than this. There is, after all, no fun better than new fun, and the Blazers are the newest fun you can have.
And maybe that's the lesson to cling to this holiday season. Sure, it's easy to be a Patriot or Cowboy fan, or to love the Red Sox, or even to find the upside on loving the Rockies all these years.
But the Blazers are writing the best story of found money you can have, because it has the most unique circumstances and plot hooks surrounding it. You can make this up, sure, but it doesn't mean it isn't a rewarding read -- at least as long as it lasts.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.