I was 20 years old when the Portland Trail Blazers drafted Damian Lillard in 2012, the 6th pick in the draft and retribution for the Greg Oden and Brandon Roy heartbreak from years before. The fans were jaded and so was I. My parents had just gotten divorced and I was in a valley in life, quite similar to a 28-38 record the Blazers had. Dame was the pick-me-up both of us needed and in no time at all, it was clear he was leading Portland into the future. His backcourt partner and our favorite player-podcaster would follow the next year and the next era of the city was defined shortly after.
When the Blazers are doing well and buzzing in Portland, the energy is palpable. Window signs start appearing in storefronts you wouldn’t assume had any interest in the subject, car flags appear but not usually for long in the rain, and the apparel from every decade comes out of every mothball-laden closet on the east side. It’s like a secret club full of people you wouldn’t look twice at on any other day. But on those days, everyone is happy and Portland feels less jaded. But no one tell it that, we have a reputation to maintain.
The day of Game 5 against Oklahoma City this year felt like one of those days. I walked to class on an unusually warm April day and saw more gear than I had seen all year. A MAX rider with a Rip City hat, a street performer with a jersey, a mom and her stroller with a hoodie–the city was ready for the game. It felt special.
I should have known something special would end up happening.
Back in November, Ringer staff writer Paolo Uggetti wrote a piece titled “The Trail Blazers Are The Same, But Different” and I used a quote in my own piece where Dame was praising Al-Farouq Aminu and the subtle impact he makes in their game. Looking back at it now, I don’t think there’s anything that summarizes the Blazers more than “Same, But Different.”
We still have our ever-standing pillars in Dame and CJ–unwavering through injuries, questionable GM decisions, and ownership deaths. In a league where leadership seems to be a more and more difficult quality to find in a franchise player (re: Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving), Dame continues to tell us every day that he is retribution for mistakes of the past and even more success for the future.
In this Game of Thrones, they did not die at their own Red Wedding in New Orleans last year. They lived to ride a dragon into the second round.
In the final possession of the game on Tuesday night, Damian walked the ball up the court with the game tied at 115-115 and took a “bad shot,” according to Paul George. But that bad shot from approximately five miles down Highway 26 told everybody else what I had known for years – Damian Lillard is a game changer. This year felt different from the moment he and LeBron James exchanged showtime dunks on opening night and when Jusuf Nurkic went down, I thought it was over. But Damian decided it wasn’t.
My best Dad joke is that being a Blazer fan is the toughest job I’ll ever have. He made it a lot easier on Tuesday night.