Being a sports fan in the Pacific Northwest can be rough sometimes. We have had our fair share of devastating defeats and heartbreaking collapses, and yet somehow, someway, we still keep coming back for more.
Between the Blazers, Mariners and the Sonics, there have been only two championships in the 120 years of their combined existence. There have been zero championships in the last 34 years. My entire sports-watching life has spent in almost constant disappointment. Not that there haven’t been moments of excitement and anticipation over those 34 years, but in most cases the excitement fizzles out and dies before the real goal can be accomplished, which, of course, is to win a championship.
As the infamous character Bane in The Dark Knight Rises says, “There can be no true despair without hope.” Time and time again, my hopes have been built up, and then ripped down. The hope is what keeps the fans coming back, no matter how many times they have been thoroughly demoralized. There have been a few, specific moments in time that have left me feeling this cynical about being a sports fan.
The one that hurts the most for me is without question the 1999-2000 NBA playoffs, when the Blazers and the Lakers were locked in an epic struggle to determine the Western Conference Champion and also to essentially determine who would go on to the finals and mop the floor with the Pacers (The West was much stronger than the East in those days). Game 7 at the Staples Center was for all the marbles. The Blazers looked great all game, and then were outscored 31-13 in the final quarter, gave up a 15 point lead, and kissed their championship dreams goodbye. All I could do was wipe away the tears as I watched Shaq and Kobe celebrate. They would go on to beat the Pacers in six games and win their first championship.
The Blazers were basically dismantled after that, which would eventually lead to the infamous era of the “Jail Blazers.” When it seemed as though the Blazers had finally recovered from the “Jail Blazers” era by drafting Brandon Roy and Greg Oden in back-to-back drafts, the façade was abruptly shattered by knee injury after knee injury, followed by early retirement. Now we have put all of our hopes on the shoulders of Damian Lillard. He is a very talented player, but I don’t know how long he will be able to handle that kind of pressure.
Now I will talk about two events that I am sure Seattle fans remember very well. First off, the 1994 NBA playoffs. The Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp-led Sonics posted a franchise record 63 wins during the 1994 season and appeared poised to win the franchise’s second championship. The Sonics played the Denver Nuggets in the first round, who squeaked into the playoffs with a 42-40 record. The Sonics won easily in the first two games in Seattle, and the fans could smell a sweep and the second round of the playoffs. Then the lowly Nuggets caught fire and pulled off three wins in a row, the final win taking place in Seattle, where the Sonics had only lost four times all year.
The second event I will talk about is in regards to the Seattle Mariners. Every Mariner fan no doubt recalls the 2001 MLB season when the Mariners tied the regular season record for wins with 116. They were on fire that season, and every Mariner fan had high hopes for the team in the playoffs. The Mariners had trouble with the Cleveland Indians in the first round, but managed to win the series in five games. Next up the Mariners faced the Yankees in the 2001 American League Championship Series. The Yankees had just managed to pull off a dramatic win in the first round after falling down 2-0 to the Oakland A’s in the series. The whole city of New York was still reeling from 9/11, and the Yankees built off of that and the entire city rallied behind the Yankees. The Mariners looked like a completely different team than they had in the regular season, and the inspired Yankees easily dispatched them in five games. After an awe-inspiring and totally unexpected regular season, the Mariners lost in the playoffs, and not only did they lose but they lost to the hated Yankees.
These are only a few of the countless examples of sports fan devastation in the Pacific Northwest. College sports have been a little kinder to us, excluding the Ducks’ loss in the championship, of course. The Huskies were dominant in the 90’s, and the Ducks are dominant now, but we still have our fair share of heartbreak, such as losing to Stanford this year to ruin our championship hopes. The Sonics are set to return to Seattle, and the Blazers have a young and talented team; it appears that the hope building process has begun again in the Pacific Northwest.
Sometimes I wonder how awesome it must be to be a Lakers or Celtics fan, with all of that history and all of those championships. But I have to wonder if they are so used to success that they might take it for granted or fail to realize how special winning a championship really is. All I can really say is that someday, all of this being disappointed business had better pay dividends; dividends in the form of championships.