At Blazers Media Day, general manager Neil Olshey, looking tan and rested, stepped in front of a room full of reporters in the bowels of Moda Center to answer the question of whether this year's squad is going to be any good.
"I think what we're all gonna have to have an open discussion about, at some point, is small- to midmarket teams, and the challenges we face," he said, "and the opportunities that are afforded big markets that aren't necessarily afforded small markets."
Although Olshey's free agency record has been spotty in ways that imply incompetence, he does make a decent point. The NBA's small-market teams, like the Blazers, have trouble making the leap in free agency. The opportunities and pleasures big cities offer insanely wealthy young men are just too tempting to sway them to come somewhere like Portland, no matter how frothingly devoted the fan base might be.
But there is one thing our city can claim—one hot magnet that, if promoted properly, could presumably attract stars from all over the world: We have some damn good-ass restaurants.
And so, I ventured into the caverns of media day to ask the Blazers where they're looking for dinner nowadays.
The question of Blazer restaurant preference suddenly became a hot-button issue last weekend when Dame tweeted he was "done" with Bamboo Sushi, accusing it of showing the star point guard "disrespect" by not seating him despite an apparent abundance of open tables. Lillard found it particularly disrespectful, given that he eats at the downtown location three whole times a week.
A few days later, though, Lillard appeared to be looking to bury the beef, naming Bamboo as his favorite spot and explaining the whole kerfuffle was just a misunderstanding.
"I actually wasn't mad," he said. "That kind of got taken out of context, because I left that Bamboo and went to another one down the street."
Pressed for other picks, Lillard listed El Gaucho, Departure and Screen Door. He also says he's been to a few carts. Have any stood out in particular? "Not really," he said.
CJ McCollum rattles them off, one after another: "Tasty n Sons. Ox. Oba. Portland City Grill. Oswego Grill. Piazza Italia." I inquire about CJ's Tasty order: "If it's off-season, I'm getting ribs, for sure," plus collard greens, baked mac-and-cheese and fries. He says he's not so hot on the breakfast there—he's more of a Pine State Biscuits man. Or La Provence. Or the Babica Hen Cafe in Lake Oswego.
Collins, for his part, prefers his sushi from Sinju at Bridgeport Village—a pretty reasonable choice, considering the construction of the modern athlete's diet involves a lot of protein, few carbs and modest portions. Sushi is perfect, so long as you don't get worms from eating too much. And even then, Jordan probably would have played through it.
The Other Curry has been in Portland for only two weeks, but he's already managed to drop by one of the city's hottest spots for upscale Italian, Nostrana in Buckman: "Think I had crab—a little crab pasta roll. Pretty good," he recalls. "The wine, I had a nice bottle of Cameron, pinot. It was good."
Meyers is also fond of Nostrana and Ox, and also likes breakfast at Babica Hen, which is apparently Lake Oswego's hottest breakfast joint among the professional basketball set. "When family's in town, it's cool to show them like Portland City Grill because of the cool views of the city. I do like Departure a lot for post-game," he says, adding, "Depends on the night, depends on the mood, depends on what my wife wants."
A New Yorker apparently possessed with the soul of an old Portlander, Harkless is fond of Jake's Famous Crawfish, but his favorite joint is a little more obscure: "There's a place, like a little small Jamaican restaurant right across the street from Jefferson High School." Mo is referring to Jamaican Homestyle Cuisine, a handsome hole in the wall that sports Jamaican flags and maps all over the walls and a Bob Marley triptych at the counter. "When I grew up, a lot of my friends were of Caribbean culture, so I would always eat dinner at their house, and I kind of fell in love with that style of food," he says. "Spicy, full of flavor."
Gary Trent Jr.
Rookie Gary Trent Jr. says he usually eats in. He also seemed genuinely befuddled by my question. He is probably right to feel this way, for now. But sooner or later, Portland's culinary scene sinks its fangs into you, and you find yourself opining about vegetable preparations and getting in weird fights with your friends about the city's best pizza.
And someday, one hopes, one dreams, the siren songs of the Pacific Northwest's dining powerhouses will reach the ear of LeBron James, bring him to our grateful hamlet to wrap up his illustrious career in a frenzy of highly skilled midpost play and weekday night sightings at Coquine. Olshey just has to get the word out.