You have to start with the pinwheel.
When I first started
attending Trail Blazers games in 2003, the teamâs brand was suffering.
This was not because the Blazers were bad: The squad had finished the
previous regular season with a very respectable 50-32 record.
But in the first
round of that yearâs playoffs, one could (and I did) saunter up to the
ticket office 20 minutes before a playoff game and buy a nosebleed-seat
ticket for $15. Thatâs because most Blazers fans just werenât crazy
about the guys in uniform.
Itâs not just that a
handful of the players had been through drug charges, sexual assault
allegations and ugly interactions with fansâtroubles extreme enough that
management would break up the squad that summer and sign a 25-point
pledge with fans centered largely on player character. It was that the
2003 Blazers were cocky without playing particularly stylish basketball.
fans donât expect their team to be a reflection of the city (that would
require nine members of the 12-man roster to be white, after all), but
they do expect beauty and grit on the court every night. Thatâs because
Blazers fans donât watch the game like anyone else. They watch for
And it really begins with the pinwheel.
1970, when the Blazers entered the NBA, there were 17 teams. Most of
them had pretty straightforward logos. The Milwaukee Bucksâ insignia
featured a chilled-out deer in a sweater, spinning a basketball on its
finger. The Boston Celtics had a mischievous, pipe-smoking leprechaun,
also spinning a basketball on his finger.
IMAGE: Tony Wecker, Portland Trail Blazers
Portland went in a
radically different direction that dared to elevate the sports team logo
to high art. The pinwheel, which has befuddled generations of
non-Portlanders, is meant to symbolize playersâ movements up and down
the court and the beautiful symmetry of basketball.
Those five red
stripes set yin-yang style against five white ones may not have been
intended as avant-gardeâit was designed by Blazers co-founder Harry
Glickmanâs cousin, and could a guy named Frank Glickman really have been
too highbrow?âbut the image seemed to predict Portlandâs future
creative class and, more importantly, seeded the intensely personal
fashion in which this cityâs fans would watch basketball.
The Blazersâ logo
doesnât say, âWeâre going to crush you.â It says, âMy God, isnât this a
beautiful game?â That is profoundly subversive. It is very Portland. It
is also not an ax.
The pinwheel persists
in part because of the teamâs extraordinary early history and lore,
which is also why the Blazers will never be displaced as this cityâs
most beloved sports franchise.
if you will, Portland in 1969: a one-horse town considerably whiter and
sleepier than the sleepy white town you call home today. Thanks to the
Oregon Liquor Control Commission, live music still could not be played
in bars (not that many notable bands would want to come through town
anyway), and if you wanted competitive sports, you watched minor-league
baseball or maybe drove south for a college football game. Fun in
Portland in 1969 was getting drunk and driving around, or smoking weed
and sitting at a park.
Then blam, itâs 1970, and the National Basketball Association opens a franchise in the middle of town.
Now, weâve all seen
how excited Portland can get over an IKEA, a Krispy Kreme or an H&M.
So itâs easy to understand how the arrival of a pro basketball team
changed the very psyche of the city in 1970, and how that teamâs NBA
championship run in 1977 would become the cityâs proudest collective
The Blazersâ only
major-league championship has everything to do with the startling
popularity of its second major professional club.
among us can delude ourselves into thinking that the level of
competition in Major League Soccer approaches that of the greatest
basketball league on the planet, and none of us should expect that the
Timbers will bring a national focus to this city the way the Blazers do
in a good season.
Iâm not a
soccer-hating American. I actually think the game, at its highest level,
is totally thrilling. But the Timbers are a midlevel team in a
low-quality league. On a recent visit from England, my soccer-obsessed
cousin and her boyfriend attended a Timbers game. âThe crowd was great,â
she told me, âbut the gameâso boring, mate.â
Fans swarm to the Timbers because they want to get in on the ground floor of something.
fandom to many also seems like an opportunity to piss on the embers of a
bygone Blazers legacy. Should the team bring home a golden cup or
silver ball or whatever the hell MLS awards its champions, the ensuing
riotous street party will be theirs alone. There will be no Bill
Walton-looking creepers lurking in the shadows and saying âYeah, but â77
I understand this. Iâm even a little jealous about it. But thereâs no room in my life for a second marriage.
I choose to watch the
Blazersâdespite my many misgivings about corporate sports franchises in
general and the teamâs current bottom-line-oriented president in
particularâbecause even when they suck, the competition is the best in
the world. I watch them because basketball appeals to my ADD side more
than soccer ever could. And I watch the Blazers because the teamâs
history gives me a better understanding of the city I love best.
That last bit has
come into sharp focus recently. Early this summer, I took a job in San
Francisco. I miss Portland desperately, even as it changes into
something less familiar and more weirdly cosmopolitan every time I
visit. Even the Blazers are changing, but at least I can keep up. Iâve
got NBA League Pass. Iâve got something to talk about with the folks
I watch for
connections. I watch for beauty. I have never been so eager for
basketball season in my life, and I have never been a bigger Blazers
[All Rip City Vs. No Pity articles are collected here.]
Casey Jarman is a former WW music editor and sports writer who now serves as managing editor for the believer magazine in San Francisco.