Dame is a hero for our time. A hero for our place.
He doesn’t play for the flashiest team in the NBA. Portland itself is not a glitzy place like Los Angeles or Miami or Brooklyn.
But Dame gets the job done. He does it in a way that fits with who we are in the Pacific Northwest. We’re a lowkey lot. Some might call us moody. Grungy is certainly a moniker that has been hung on us in the past.
If you saw Dame in a worn flannel shirt, faded blue jeans and a knit cap, with a foggy mountain range or a river behind him, you would know instantly that he was one of us. Though his métier is a basketball, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine him swinging an axe. He’s just that kind of guy.
What does he do and how does he do it?
In short, he takes over games when they need taking over. When his team, light on superstars and heavy on long odds, needs to eke out a win to keep themselves just barely in the playoff hunt, Dame is the dude who does the dirty work.
He shoots lilting, impossible shots from beyond the arc. He drives the lane and lifts over bigger defenders like he has a jet pack on his back. He finds sources of energy and inspiration the way that diviners find water.
But it’s almost not so much what he does and who he does it for. It’s how he does it. And why.
Portland is not a team built for championships. At least not on paper or in any commonly understood sense. There are too many rosters and too many superstars in this league for upstarts to punch their way past the first or second rounds.
Dame plays like a championship for Portland is the only thing standing between us and the world just imploding into a million pieces. He plays as if good play and personal achievement are still worth something in a world where it can feel as if rings and trophies and banners are all that matters.
He plays like a selfless person who’s doing something for the greater good. Now, that may not really be the case, but that’s how it feels to fans and observers.
Some might try to say he’s a selfish player wants all the glory for himself. Those people probably don’t know much about how basketball works.
Dame does it because his team needs him to. Due to youth, injury and general roster depth and availability issues, the Trailblazers don’t have anyone else to lean on right now.
A more selfish player wouldn’t seem so willing to lay everything on the line night after night. He might have given up long ago. He would have his bags packed and his agent on the phone to get him to some other city where he could be flashy alongside superstar teammates, which generally describes the winningest teams in today’s world.
Will Dame be enough for the scrappy Trailblazers to go where there not supposed to go? To a place where many don’t think they belong?
Does the blue-collar guy ever really end up in the country club?
When Dame is the dude in question, you brush aside those questions at your own peril. Because at this point anything and everything is possible. At least it would seem, those things are possible for Dame. And as long as that’s the case, it gives the rest of us something to believe in, too.