The 2014 NBA playoffs are proving to be memorable. In just over a week we've had: Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist rantings, the swift and severe punishment dealt to him by new Commissioner Adam Silver, an unusually large number of close first round matchups, the atrocious play of the league’s regular season best team Indiana Pacers, seemingly endless controversy surrounding referees like Joey Crawford and the passing of one of the NBA’s most revered luminaries Jack Ramsay.
These playoffs, more than any in recent memory, are teaching us not only how to run the perfect pick and roll: they're teaching us about our lives.
Hanging in Blazer coach Terry Stotts’ office is a large plaque with the words “Teams that play together beat those teams with superior players who play more as individuals.”
That inspirational quote comes from “Dr. Jack” Ramsay, the coach who led Portland to their 1977 championship, and perfectly describe this Blazer team’s convictions. All season long the Portland players repeatedly spoke of their unselfish mentality, their determination to rely on each other, and the strong belief in their ability as a team. Their connectedness, some call it chemistry, is always on display.
With core principles such as trust, teamwork, and togetherness, today’s Trail Blazers are a welcomed anecdote to the star worship, brand centric attitudes of the more materialistic eras of professional basketball.
Blitz Ladd was at capacity for Wednesday night’s away game. Long tables packed with 9-to-5ers throwing themselves emotionally into a Blazer win that would advance the team past the tenacious Houston Rockets into the second round. The only spot I can find to sit is on the floor by the bathrooms. A kind employee brings me a chair. The air is stuffy and smells of fried food.
Two young women to my right, cheeks bright red from shrieking, irritatedly shout at the giant TV screens (they line every wall) like they are reprimanding their little brothers. Portland is getting outplayed in this one. But regardless, the two Blazer dancers in attendance, decked in skimpy, Rip City mini dresses and crimson patent leather gogo boots, cheer like pros. The girls with the red cheeks yell at the Blazers to “box out.” Lillard's third quarter break away dunk inspires an emphatic round of high fives.
But the Rockets’ reserve point guard Jeremy Lin takes over the second half like Magic or Bird, and I begin to realize—despite Ryan to my left telling me repeatedly “we got this”—that the Blazers will have to finish this series off Friday at the Moda Center.
It was a turbulent week for the NBA. However, adversity breeds resolve. Donald Sterling’s well publicized racism provided us with the opportunity to reassert our values. What began as as a disturbing blow, ended up a galvanizing moment for players, coaches, owners and fans.
It's been a great week in the NBA, after all. Even with the Blazers coming off a loss.