Our beloved Los Angeles Lakers are in the Pacific Northwest tonight, preparing for yet another round against the Trail Blazers, who have managed to (exaggerated eye-roll) beat LA at least 3,000 consecutive times. To make matters even better, we have the Lakers sitting at 16-32, tied for last in the Western Conference in winning percentage.
WHAT COULD GO WRONG?!
It’s become tiring trying to preach patience and rationality in the midst of what seems to be yet another lottery-bound season, and after holding the prestigious position of Lakers Tank Commander for the past three years, I can certainly see the merit in falling back into that habit. To me, however, that’s exactly what this would become — habit. These kids are already familiar with losing games in this league. It could become devastating if they get comfortable with it.
Despite all this, believe it or not, I came here today with a positive point! In an attempt to take my own advice, I’m going to let the rest of this season play out, hoping for victories in each game along the way. As mentioned above, one of those games is tonight in Portland, which reminded me of another time the Blazers hosted LA. This particular game had slightly higher stakes than what we’ll see tonight, at least for the Lakers. That night, in April of ’04, the Pacific Division was on the line.
The Lakers arrived at the then-named Rose Garden on April 14, 2004, looking to clinch yet another Pacific Division title. After adding Karl Malone and Gary Payton to the squad the previous summer, LA was essentially in a holding pattern until June. But injuries and internal turmoil proved tougher foes than most expected.
I remember getting to the Rose Garden that night, an awkward, scrawny Oregonian swimming in an XL Abdul-Jabbar jersey (that thing was so big it might have actually been Kareem’s) and hiking my way up to the 300 level of the Garden. I vividly remember three people profanely expressing their displeasure with me on the way to my seat. That number seems low, now that I think about it.
Growing up a Lakers fan in Portland wasn’t always easy. I was held captive in the one NBA city where my team couldn’t win. But all those losses (LA went winless in PDX from Feb. ‘05 – Feb. ‘10) were worth it for two things — the 2000 Western Conference Finals and that breezy April night in 2004.
The Lakers entered the game tied with Sacramento, who had lost earlier in the evening. A victory in Portland would give Los Angeles the second seed in the west.
It was a competitive game throughout, with Portland leading 50-45 at the break. Then, with eight seconds left in the fourth and the Lakers trailing 87-84, Kobe took the ball in the backcourt, dribbled back and forth, double-clutched around Ruben Patterson (the self-dubbed Kobe Stopper) and buried the game-tying bucket. I’m fortunate I didn’t tumble over the railing while expressing my jubilation.
A few minutes later, at the end of the second overtime period, the Lakers (of course) found themselves in the same position. A Damon Stoudemire layup with 2.2 seconds left put Portland back in front by a pair.
Then Kobe did his thing again.
Obviously, 12 years later, there are only bits and pieces of that night that I remember. The two shots certainly stick out, and Damon’s layup will forever be a source of annoyance just because I’m a miserable person, but what I’ll remember the most is an older gentleman on the landing below me. He kept turning around to look directly at me whenever something went Portland’s way. After Stoudemire’s layup he turned around and told me to pack up my things and hit the exits.
“I’ll leave after Kobe wins it right here,” I told him.
The next (and last) time I saw him he was following his own advice, heading for the door with one defiant, angry finger held high in my direction. Boy was that satisfying.
There’s something about supporting a team on the road, especially in a hostile environment, that repeatedly reinforces your allegiance. There’s no question that growing up in Portland, one of the best NBA cities in the country with a rabid fanbase, had a profound impact on my Laker fandom. And for that I’ll always love Portland.
Sure, this season kinda sucks so far, so while we wait for the hurricane to pass and the opportunity to remove the boards from the windows, I thought it would be fun to hear from some of you.
How many grew up, like me, in enemy territory? Have any good stories? I bet you do. If you have a couple minutes, share yours in the comments below.
Think of it as a therapeutic exercise, an opportunity to recall fond memories and continue to suppress the current ones. I’m no psychiatrist, but that definitely seems like the most mature, healthy way to deal with your emotions. Either that or find a 70-year-old Rip City resident to flip you the bird after a Mamba game-winner. I’ve found that helps too.