Greg Oden or Kevin Durant? Today we find out and I hope it's Oden. It should be.
Many of my friends and readers have wondered why I put out a book, Red Hot and Rollin', about a professional basketball team. They wonder because I almost exclusively write on Oregon environmental, literary and political topics. They also wonder because many of them know I don't subscribe to cable television, follow the Portland Trail Blazers or any sports at all. To my friends and family, my producing a book about professional sports is roughly akin to George W. Bush writing a book attesting to his authentic Christianity.
What interested me about the magical 1976-77 year the Blazers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers and their collection of one-on-one egomaniacs, is how that team competed, how they brought the state together, and how their unselfish means of accomplishment came across as so quintessentially Oregon in an era when Oregon established a name for itself as one of the most progressive places on Earth. What further interested me is reflecting upon how in my youth the Blazers played a game the way the waning counterculture of that era wanted us all to live.
Recognizing and acknowledging the selfless way the franchise won its only NBA title is, I believe, the larger significance and useful metaphor of the 1976-77 Blazers' championship season. There's still a transcendent lesson there, in sports and in life. And for Oregon.
In 1978 the National Conference of Christian and Jews bestowed a Human Relations Award on the Blazers for their "teamwork and generosity."
Now, name anything contemporary in Oregon's popular culture as unifying as the Blazers were back in the Rip City era that might earn a comparable award.
And, as far as organized competitive sports go, I know today many progressive people disdain them. But I played them and I coached them and have experienced their awesome educational power, whether winning big or getting your ass kicked. The Blazer lesson circa 1976-77 exists for a new generation of Oregonians and Oregon coaches. Young people can learn a lasting good or evil from the way they are coached to compete in a competitive sport. Three decades ago, I learned something good from just watching a professional team. What I learned is: "pass first and shoot second." That lesson still instructs me.
That lesson should have instructed the Blazer management on their monumental choice. That is, if they knew anything culturally relevant about the team's storied past, which I have seen scant evidence of (one employee I've dealt with in connection to my book is a glaring exception). Oden and Durant offer striking contrasting styles of play. One player, Oden, seems to have the right Blazer stuff of yore. Durant seems more like a 76er from thirty years ago. Let's hope the Blazer brain trust recognized this.
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Matt Love is the founder and publisher of Nestucca Spit Press; author/editor of the Beaver State Trilogy: Grasping Wastrels vs. Beaches Forever Inc.: Covering the Fights for the Soul of the Oregon Coast (2003), The Far Out Story of Vortex I (2004), and Red Hot and Rollin': A Retrospection of the Portland Trail Blazers' 1976-77 Championship Season (2007); and also Let It Pour. He is a regular contributor to the Oregonian, columnist for the Bear Deluxe and In Good Tilth magazines, and teaches English and history in the Lincoln County School District. He lives at the Oregon Coast, where for nine years he has served as caretaker of the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge.