Dear Greg Oden:
Congratulations on being selected as the number one pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in the June NBA draft. What an incredible hoop talent you are! The basketball experts rate you as the best big man to come along in a decade, if not a generation, a player to build a team around who could single-handedly reverse the fortunes of an abysmal franchise.
You're on your way to the great Pacific Northwest, a region inhabited by Bigfoot that novelist Thomas Wolfe once described as a "country for the gods!" Yes, Greg, the wet and green Pacific Northwest, Portland, Oregon to be exact, home of the once glorious Trail Blazers whose own fortunes bottomed out a while back and definitely need reversing.
You are going to love it here. Trust me, brother. I have lived here almost all my life and visited every corner of Oregon. Many things recommend the Beaver state, but the awesome and diverse natural landscapes top the list. I heard you already experienced a bit of their hypnotic power on your first visit to Oregon. The Oregonian newspaper reported that upon seeing the snow-capped Mt Hood from an airplane, you exclaimed in apparent wonder, "I've never seen that, until now." Believe me, Greg, a multitude of even more spectacular natural Oregon wonders exist to delight you if that's your scene, which if it isn't, perhaps should be, if you want to integrate yourself properly into Pacific Northwest life.
Kind of like another number one pick in the NBA draft did a few decades ago. He was also a coveted big man chosen first by the Portland Trail Blazers. He went on to lead the franchise to its only NBA title, won a league MVP award, and created a cultural legend in Oregon that still strongly resonates today. It's a helluva' story Greg, completely unique in the annals of professional sports, and I want to share it with you. I think it could be instructive and help make your tenure in Oregon more gratifying and meaningful.
In 1974, Portland made Bill Walton, the 7-foot, pony tailed, vegetarian, Vietnam War protesting, Grateful Dead-listening, far out center from UCLA, the first pick in the 1974 NBA draft. At that time, Walton had received far more lucrative offers to sign with the rival American Basketball Association, but he chose the Trail Blazers and Oregon because, as he told a New York writer, "The major influence was the social and ecological awareness among the people."
Let me repeat some of that, Greg: "â€¦ecological awareness among the people."
Oregon was suffused with that awareness back in the mid 1970s. In fact, Oregon, during legendary Governor Tom McCall's two terms (1967-75), put itself on the national map in that era as the most politically progressive state in the union by enacting a series of conservation initiatives, most of them unprecedented.
You are moving here, Greg, so you should know about these initiatives because they turned Oregon into one of the most desirable places to live on earth. Initiatives such as: protection of ocean beaches from development, protection of estuaries, a law dedicating one percent of highway funds for bicycle and pedestrian paths, a mandatory 5-cent deposit on returnable cans and bottles, an effort to clean up the polluted Willamette River, visionary land use planning, a forest practices act, and a level of voluntary energy conservation promoted by a state government simply unthinkable today.
McCall called all of this and more the "Oregon Story" and the national media flocked to the state in the governor's second term to report on the "all sorts of innovative and bizarre goings on," as the New Yorker described it.
Obviously, Walton knew about the Oregon Story and wanted to experience for himself its vaunted â€˜livability,' a phrase McCall actually coined. If there was ever a professional athlete more attune with his adopted home's political zeitgeist, who embraced all that the state's landscapes had to offer, I can't think of one. Walton knew where he was. He became part of it. Learn from that.
Greg, you know what Walton did in his spare time? He climbed over Mt. Hood glaciers, hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, bicycled down the Oregon Coast, picked blackberries, bought a chalet in the foothills of the Cascades, drank Oregon beer, and ate organic food. And Greg, do you know what Walton did two days after the Blazers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers to win the crown on June 5, 1977, and a day after the victory parade in downtown Portland when 250,000 Oregonians turned out to party, still the largest public gathering in Oregon history? He took a five-day whitewater raft trip down Idaho's Salmon River! With no entourage! He even went nude in a hot springs! He was the championship series MVP!
There's something else you should know about Walton's bike, Greg. It was a custom-made, $1000, Falcon racer that he rode all over the city. He even commuted to practice. Now, if the Blazers ever move their practice facility out of the traffic-choked suburbs to downtown where it belongs, you can buy a loft in the heart of the city and ride your bike to practice! Now how sweet would that be? Portland's the bike capital of the country. People would go absolutely nuts seeing you ride! We're talking legend Greg.
I could go forever about Walton and Oregon in the 70s but I'll end here. If you want, I can send you a copy of my new book about the '77 Blazers called Red Hot and Rollin'. I read where you are a very intelligent and studious young man. If so, it really does behoove you to read the book (it's got a movie included with it, too!) and know your Blazer history. I think it would greatly benefit you to understand how the '77 team, especially Walton, embraced what it meant to be a true Oregonian and resident of the Pacific Northwest, which means dealing with the rain. A lot of rain.
While we're on the subject of relentless Oregon rain, please Greg, never use an umbrella. And to learn more what the rain will most likely do to you in the winter, I suggest reading Ken Kesey's Sometimes A Great Notion, the quintessential Oregon novel. And when you blow a last second shot to win a game, you can always quote the book's best line as a defense for your choking: "Blame it on the rain."