It was a cold, sunny morning in January. My mother and I left our house as early as we could, ready to make a 2 hour road trip to the city of Portland. Our driver was a lifelong friend who was currently living in the city, and who had been kind enough to buy our tickets well in advance. We were coming to watch a Blazers game...against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
We arrived around noon, giving us plenty of time to have lunch and explore the town. The downtown area had a distinct charm to it. The shopping centers were modest, the parks looked friendly, and the neighborhoods looked hospitable. It made a lot of sense why my friend wanted to live here.
About two hours before tipoff, we walked to a train that would take us all the way to the Rose Quarter. Upon entering one of the cars and sitting down, I already found myself surrounded by three Blazers fans, sweatshirts, foam fingers, hats and everything. I was not wearing a Cavs jersey...only a hat with the Cavs logo gleaming on it. Both my mom and my friend were a little worried about my hat, thinking we were going to be subjected to massive heckling, but I was not worried. One of the Blazers fans took one look at me, smiled, and said,
I was certainly not going to take this jab lying down, so I smiled and said, "Cavs all the way, baby. That's where it's at."
This elicited groans and guffaws from several other passengers. My friend said, "Yes, he lives on the West Coast, but he's a Cavs fan. I don't know how it happened either. I live in Portland."
Another Blazers fan said, "You better watch it, or you're in for a rough night." That also got everyone laughing. The first Blazers fan said, "Naw man, it's all good. You're cool to come here tonight. But I just gotta warn you, you're alone." Then she grinned.
I responded, "I know I'm in Portland, but, you know...it's bad business. Do you really think you guys can make a deep playoff run? I mean, you've lost Greg Oden again. Anyone think he's a bust?"
The second Blazers fan said, "Why of course! It's because he came from friggin' Ohio State! That's why he's so washed up!"
That got me peeved. I wanted to respond with, "Ohio State? You mean the team that just beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl?" But I didn't. I just eased back, picturing the prospect of enjoying the game, watching the Cavs win, and seeing all these fans leave the Garden. I licked my chops just thinking about it. When you're rooting for the road team, it's the most satisfying part of being a road fan: witnessing the home crowd shuffle out silence after listening to them roaring and cheering their team on. I was sure I would get the last laugh, I just had to wait.
As we got closer to the Rose Quarter, more passengers filled up the train. I saw one man get on board with his son, who looked like he was 10 years old. He happened to be wearing a Cavaliers sweatshirt. I delighted in this, but Blazers fans laughed, saying, "What happened to this kid? Where did our village go wrong?"
Once we arrived, I saw huge crowds of people and lines backed up way outside the entrance. In the distance was a gigantic circular complex with the words ROSE GARDEN on it. I began to get nervous with anticipation; I could hardly contain my excitement. As we made our way towards the entrance, I saw one guy wearing a throwback yellow LeBron jersey. As we looked through the lines of people, I began to see more people wearing LeBron jerseys scattered among the masses. This got me pumped with pride. I was not alone at all.
At the entrance, we passed through a metal detector, and I set foot for the very first time inside an NBA sports complex. The place was buzzing with activity. The concession stands were hard at work, people were waiting to get to the elevators, and the TV monitors showed the final minutes of the Cardinals-Packers playoff game. Other TV screens were showing the Blazers and Cavs logos next to each other. It felt so surreal. Here I was, in Portland, just a few hours from home, and tonight, this one special night during the whole year, my team, the Cavaliers, were coming all the way from Cleveland to play an NBA game in this very building! And I was going to see it all!
To be continued...