Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

What Lies Ahead for Portland Basketball?

Photo courtesy of Craig Mitchelldyer
Damian Lillard dribbles the ball.

Growing up, Portland Trail Blazers games were memorable outings with my dad and my brother; every once in a while, we would go to see them at the Moda Center. Right before the game started, I would go to the top floor because they had the best food. A lot of the food in the Moda was also local rather than from fast food chains. My go-to order was always popcorn, a hot dog, and a big cup of lemonade. 

My favorite part of the game was getting free boom sticks that I could cheer with and then, later, annoy my brother with. I have a dozen or so packs of them lying around my room that still haven’t been inflated. Sometimes, when the Blazers won, Taco Bell would hand out coupons just for the night. If that was ever the case, after the game, my dad would drive us to the Taco Bell near our house, and I’d get a chicken quesadilla and a frozen Baja Blast for my 10 p.m. meal. 

I liked watching basketball because it was fast paced. Though I disliked the fluorescent lighting, squeaks, and loud buzzers in the Moda, I always enjoyed the anticipation of the game and the talent the players put on the court.  Even nowadays, Oberlin’s basketball team is one of my favorite teams to watch.

Though I haven’t been to a Blazers game in a while, Damian Lillard leaving to play for the Milwaukee Bucks feels like I’m saying goodbye to a part of my childhood. Even when LaMarcus Alridge and C.J. McCollum left, I was sad, but this somehow feels worse. Maybe because he was the last star player remaining, or because he’s been a part of the Blazers for more than half of my life. Lillard is considered one of the NBA’s best guards, and perhaps the best Trail Blazer of all time. In his career, he’s been named All Star for 11 seasons. This season, he’s averaged 32.2 points per game. Chances are, if you own a numbered Blazers jersey, it says “Lillard” on the back.

College third-year Braden Wells, who went to one of my rival high schools, also grew up going to Blazers games. 

“[Lillard] was sort of the only good player for as long as I can remember,” Wells said. “I’m a little bit mixed about it because, obviously, they’ve been terrible for the past four or five years now. So, I understand wanting to leave and get a trophy, but also he’s running from the grind.”’

College third-year Jake Davis, who went to high school about 15 minutes from me, also saw Blazers games growing up. His dad was a graphic designer that got Blazers tickets every once in a while, so Davis would go see them play with his family. As an eight-year-old watching the games, his highlight was the T-shirt cannon that would launch free shirts into the large crowd. In middle school, kids would show up the next day with boom sticks to show off that they had attended the Blazers game. He also expressed enthusiasm about the local food scene in the Moda, as he enjoyed grabbing a burger from Killer Burger or a gourmet s’more. In contrast to Wells, Davis is melancholy about Lillard’s departure. 

“I’m sad about it,” Davis said. “I mean, it’s not like I want the Portland Trail Blazers to only ever be defined by the fact that Damian Lillard was on the team, but it still does feel sad. He was a really amazing player, and he was kind of like a symbol for Portland, like the ‘L train.’. I feel like the Trail Blazers are definitely gonna come back, have new great players, have a new great generation, but it’s definitely sad to see the end of an era for that team.”

Davis’ favorite past Blazers player, Robin Lopez, also just signed to the Milwaukee Bucks — where he will be joined by Lillard. 

“I liked him the most because his hair was always just crazy and it would bounce as he was running down the court,” Davis said. “And then also he just had such style. … It just always looked good.”

College third-year Isaac Cotlar started going to Trail Blazers games when he was in first grade. He would go to two or three games a year with his dad, and when the Trail Blazers made it to the playoffs, they tried to go to those games as well. Cotlar has watched Lillard since his rookie season and has been a fan ever since. Like me, he valued watching Lillard play because it was time spent with his dad during his childhood. After games, they would walk across the Willamette River to Chinatown. 

Cotlar recalled how, in one of the first Blazers games he watched, Lillard hit a buzzer beater against the Houston Rockets in the 2014 Western Conference Playoffs, leading the Blazers to the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time in 14 years. The final score was 99-98. 

“It was definitely a formative memory for me in terms of going to Blazers games,” Cotlar said. “I feel like Blazers fans are pretty enthusiastic compared to a lot of other NBA fans.”

Cotlar has mixed feelings about Lillard leaving. 

“I’m sad, but I’m also happy — he’s doing what he has to do,” Cotlar said. “Obviously it’s bittersweet, and I wish the Blazers had put themselves in a position to keep him, but I think it was probably time, you know? It definitely does suck though.”

When asked who his favorite Blazers player was, Cotlar immediately answered Lillard.

“I started wearing the number zero when I played basketball in middle school — I would wear zero because of him,” Cotlar said. “But beforehand, there was Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. I mean, at this point, people are kind of saying he’s maybe …  one of the best players ever. Or … at the very least, [he’s] up there with the older guys from the nineties, like Drexel and stuff.”

So, what lies next for Rip City? To be honest, I’m not sure. Lillard’s departure means saying goodbye to a symbol that has defined Portland.

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