Last month, after Portland miraculously won the NBA's draft lottery and with it the right to choose the number one pick ? which by the way, is tomorrow ? a lot of fans and talking heads proclaimed, "Blazermania is back."
Perhaps the Blazers should win another NBA title first, or at least qualify for the playoffs, or finish a regular season without a player getting caught with a handgun or strippers or open containers of cognac before boosters make such pronouncements.
There are so many new people to Oregon, about a million since 1977, and most of the ones I've met don't know, much less care, about Oregon history. They certainly don't know what Blazermania really is ? or was. Thus, it's time for a history lesson of what happened in Rip City 30 years ago. It's one helluva' far out Oregon story.
On June 5, 1977, the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers to win their first and only NBA championship.
The next day, a victory parade made its way through downtown Portland in 100 degree heat. Two hundred-fifty thousand fanatics attended the spectacle, some wearing homemade commemorative T-shirts, some hanging off fire escapes, lamp posts, trees, anything for a better view, and it became the largest public gathering in Oregon history, topping the number who took to Portland's streets to celebrate the end of World War II on VJ Day.
That was authentic Blazermania and the NBA had never seen anything like it. Nor had the veteran sportswriters who covered the league. Many were cynical in their reports on the Blazers and their insane fans, but Curry Kirkpatrick, writing in Sports Illustrated after Portland won it all, got it:
Blazermania was the force behind the Trail Blazers winning their final 18 games in the Coliseum, including 10 in the playoffs, including, of course, the world championship. Run a lap. Kiss a fir tree. Throw away an aerosol can. Chug-a-lug boysenberry kumquat juice. And root for Bill Walton. You've got Blazermania.
What Blazermania demonstrated beyond anything else was that in an age when pro sports is so often the dull child of dismal bigness, a team by its style, character and wholesome ways can still manage to personalize itself, enchant its audience and make everybody feel good. The Trail Blazers didn't simply win the NBA championship. They related. They shared. They got down to their people. In the peculiarly accurate street vernacular of the NBA, the standard opening greeting of "Wha's happenin'?" finally can be answered:
"Portland is, what is."
The day after the parade ended, a fan wrote a letter to the Oregonian newspaper. "I would suggest that something larger is taking place which carries impact beyond the momentary title at stake."
Having lived in Oregon City as a teenager during the genesis of Blazermania, I can attest "that something larger" indeed did take place: it was a basketball team's unselfish style of play serving as an inspiring personal and societal metaphor for an entire state.
Now tell me that happened two weeks ago in Texas when San Antonio won their NBA title.
If our new number-one pick leads us to the crown, then get back to me about a new Blazermania. Or get back to me when a grandmother makes cookies in the shape of Blazer players. Or when a record 96 percent of televisions in use are tuned to the final game of a championship series. Or when parents name a kid after a Blazer. Or when the Oregonian writes, "It was like the fall of Rome, the opening of the West and the discovery of atomic power at the Rose Garden Sunday."
Like Sunday, June 5, 1977, in Portland, Oregon, that is.
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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.