Sunday , Mar , 07 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

All Blaze And No Glory

They were twelve minutes away. Just a quarter from reaching the NBA Finals, giving them a chance to be Glorious for the first time since 1977.

Up by fifteen points with everything going their way, but as shot after shot caromed off the rim in that final period, it was as if fate started playing an awful joke. Somehow victory was abruptly snatched from their jaws in a blink of an eye. What in the name of Clyde Drexler was going on? It was theirs; the league belonged to them. They wanted it, right? Or maybe it was a case where the taste of success was so overwhelming that they subconsciously relinquished it? Maybe, the possibilities were too much to handle.

All Blaze And No GloryMany believe the Portland Trail Blazers choked in that infamous Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals in 2000. I can’t really argue with that assessment, however I like the way my boy put it, “The Lakers broke the Blazers…” It’s a fitting analysis, because the foundation of that team was fractured as a result. The whole thing is kind of humorous. Well, sort of. Yet I’m sure at that moment, no one was laughing (sans the Lakers). Not basketball purists, not the casual fan, and especially not anyone coming from the Blazers’ perspective.

That game ultimately changed the course of the Blazers’ future. Instead of having the opportunity to be one of the all time great teams in league history, they’ll go down as one of the most underachieving, disappointing squads ever. In the following years, Portland suffered three consecutive first round exits, a myriad of off court issues, and finally a decision by management to dismantle the team and start anew.

Arvydas Sabonis, retired; Scottie Pippen, back in Chicago where he started; Brian Grant, struggling in Miami; Greg Anthony, kicking knowledge at ESPN; Bonzi Wells, part of the Memphis platoon; Steve Smith, on his last legs…somewhere; Jermaine O’Neal, flourishing in Hoosierland; and Rasheed Wallace, who many believe was the cancer, unceremoniously vanquished. Only Damon Stoudamire remains and the feeling is, his time in Rip City is limited.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Those WERE your Portland Trail Blazers.

Today, the folks in Nike Country are in the Zach Randolph Era. No disrespect to him, but that’s a long way from the infinite possibilities that were within their grasps. Nevertheless, it is what it is, and the Blazer organization can only wonder…What if?

What if they won that game?

Would they have defeated the Indiana Pacers for the Glory?

Would Rasheed’s technical fouls have been that big of an issue?

Would Scottie Pippen be regarded as a greater winner than Michael Jordan? Seven rings compared to Mike’s six. That would have given Scottie the thing he so greatly desires from all, true appreciation.

Would the Lakers still be the LAKERS?

We’ll never know.

What we do know is things got so bad in the wake of that game that the community of Portland collectively put their foot down. Blazer faithful grew weary of players getting arrested for marijuana possession, fighting amongst themselves, and the total lack of respect for the game of basketball. As a result, the fans began to revolt. Empty seats in the arena became customary and cries to management for change were deafening; Blazermania was dying. That they were willing to sacrifice the remnants of arguably the most talented team ever for the present hope that this new bunch can beat out Denver and Utah for the eighth seed in this season’s playoffs shows the lengths of their outrage.

Things are quiet now in Portland. The so-called bad seeds have been replaced with players who are not as talented as the previous group, but who are nonetheless quality individuals on and off the court. The Rose Garden is filled to capacity again. Fans are brimming with love and unabashed pride for their team, sentiments that diminished over the previous four seasons. Still, the developments that took place to attain harmony had to be painful. Like the old saying goes: If you build it, they will come. It’s a shame the Blazer brass had to tear it down to get the same result.

What a difference a quarter makes?

They were just twelve minutes away…to what eventually turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.