The last few days have been discombobulating to say the least. The air in Portland is infused with a confliction of feelings. A pervading melancholy lingers after the sudden death of Paul Allen. An intensifying excitement surrounds the upcoming home opener vs the Lakers. Are we fans allowed to feel both?
The news of Paul Allen’s death has sent Blazer fans reeling. The man who fought hard to keep the Blazers in Portland, built the Rose Garden arena, and provided a blank check to make the team a winner, is gone from this Earth. The implications of his absence are profound. They send shivers down my spine. How ironic Halloween is just around the corner.
Speculation has run rampant. Who will buy the Blazers? Did Paul stipulate whoever it is, must keep the team in Rip City? Will they inevitably be moved? Seattle? Las Vegas? Kansas City? A fifth team for California? The nightmares. All of this on the eve of the 2018-19 season.
Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey and President Chris McGowan held a news conference Tuesday to show that the Blazers are still here, even sans its fearless leader and greatest fan. Business as usual. The Moda Center windows aren’t boarded up. There is no for sale sign on the front lawn. The Blazers still reside there in the house that Paul built. The Rip city sign sits adorned with roses, transformed into a shrine. The organization, the players, and the fans mourn.
The news conference, partially used to quell the fears of fans, wasn’t really about the future of the team though. It was about Allen, about painting a picture of who he was and what he meant to the city of Portland. He lived every Blazer fan’s dream of owning the team, being a part of the every day decision making, building a brand on the foundation of the franchise. He always believed in the team and the city, even when others shunned small market Portland. He was a superfan. A basketball man through and through. His greatest desire was to bring a second championship to the city. That ambition proved elusive. He never got to see the promise land.
Allen lived the Trail Blazer name. He was a pioneer of modern computer systems, co-founding Microsoft. He contributed to aerospace, building the world’s largest plane. He was a renowned philanthropist, giving back so much to the World. He invested in dozens of charities and causes. His legacy is powerfully entrenched in his work, and in the hearts of the people whose lives he touched.
The loss of Paul Allen runs deep. In Portland it will reverberate for some time. It will be felt at potent levels when the Blazers take on the Lakers Thursday in their home opener at the Moda Center. Allen’s empty courtside seat will be left as a reminder. The Blazers will wear special patches on their jerseys. A special memorial video will be played. Damian Lillard will deliver a heartfelt speech. The fans will embrace and unite. There will be an energy there like never before.
There is a lot at stake in this game. It is far more than a pitting of the leagues two most fiercest rivalries. It is more than a debut for Lebron in his new uniform. Far more. This is about a new era, in Blazers basketball. This is about celebrating the end of another, more than thirty years in the making, composed of great adversity and triumph.
I propose this of Blazers fans. Whatever the ratio of opposing fans, be louder. Paul Allen would not want us with our heads down. But, standing tall, arms raised, cheering and screaming the Blazers to a win. Be louder still. Drown out the national tv announcers, drown out all the Lakers hype. Be louder still. For at stake is the future of the Blazers. Lest this season be this franchises last. Fight for this team. Fight for this fandom. Fight for this city. Be louder still. The Moda Center is our house.