On those rare but special, sublime occasions when a sports team I love has something extraordinary happen, one of my favorite moments comes awhile later. It's after I've forgotten about the good fortune for awhile and then experience feelings of surprise and happiness all over again - the euphoric next day leftovers, you might say.
For example, I was standing in my kitchen this morning, making my first cup of coffee, when it suddenly hit me: "Oh yeah, we've got the #1 pick in the draft!" We, of course, meaning the Portland Trail Blazers.
It's been several days now since the Blazers won the NBA draft lottery, and I still find it something to savor. We haven't had a chance to potentially blow it yet, like we supposedly did in 1984 by not drafting Michael Jordan, so one is free to feel nothing but optimism. Besides, there are extra reasons to feel good. In some down years, having the #1 pick means getting the rights to pick Michael Olowakandi or Andrew Bogut - mediocre players who never have come remotely close to greatness. However, there have also been a lot of great players drafted first, like Tim Duncan, Shaq, and Lebron James. Portland has the good fortune of there being two players viewed as can't-miss prospects in Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Whomever of the two isn't picked first in this year's draft probably would have been the #1 pick in numerous drafts past.
Blazer fans (myself included) are also very high on new general manager Kevin Pritchard. A combination of relentless research-oriented study and unteachable chutzpah, Pritchard got his start in the San Antonio front office and engineered the six-trade draft day in 2006 that brought Brandon Roy and LeMarcus Aldridge to Portland. Even before we got the #1 pick, one felt like he had the team headed for future prosperity, more so than at any time since the team got Scottie Pippen a decade ago - ironically, Jordan's sidekick, courtesy of a trade with Houston. (Someday people will more fully recognize the Scottie Pippen-led Blazers as the franchise's third-best era after the ones Walton and Drexler led in the late 70s and early 90s.)
With Oden and Durant in a two-man race to become the pick (no one else is close), dissected continuously in sports media, I find it ironic that conventional wisdom seems built on the same logic that saw the Blazers take Sam Bowie 23 years ago.
Back in 1984 when Portland picked second in the draft, the team already had a future Hall-of-Fame guard in Clyde Drexler, and the consensus among fans and media was that the Blazers needed a center. Bowie was All-American at that position for Kansas. (Remember him on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline "Sam Bam!"?) So we ignored the flashy scorer in Jordan and took Bowie. Who fucking knew? As I've said so many times before, the real tragedy came when Portland lost the coin flip for the #1 pick with Houston, who promptly took the Blazers first choice: Hakeem Olajuwan (then "Akeem"). If only the Rockets, who already had center Ralph Sampson, the #1 pick from the year before, would have taken Jordan. Then the Blazers could have taken Olajuwan and, chances are, the Portland version of Phi Slamma Jamma would have had some of MJ's rings.
And yet, even with Durant averaging 25 points per game as a freshman at Texas and Oden averaging 16, and the hindsight of history indicating a truly great scorer is invaluable, my gut still says to go with Oden. He was shooting mostly with his left hand all season following surgery (he's right-handed), and he still led his team as a freshman to the NCAA title game. Walton, by the way, thinks we should take Oden. Plus, this is one bad-ass 19 year old. Look at him - he looks like's 40!
After watching both players, reading about them and hearing comparisons to past/present players, I like to think of this as a choice between Patrick Ewing and Kevin Garnett. I might take Ewing by just a nose, but if they both reach that kind of potential, aren't we looking good either way?
I wish it were that easy.
The Bowie albatross notwithstanding, the Blazers have had the #1 pick three times before, with a spectrum of bad, great and middling results. LaRue Martin in 1972: bad pick. Bill Walton in 1974: great pick, even if the glory and the feet were fleeting. Mychal Thompson in 1979: middling pick. Although he was a solid pro and team leader for the Blazers for several years, he played in maybe one or two all-star games. Magic Johnson, by comparison, was the next year's top pick. Thompson would later wind down his career as part of Magic's supporting cast on one of the team's (yawn) last of their five championship runs in the 80s.
For now at least, though, I'd like to imagine that Walton is more the connecting thread to Oden. And besides, why spoil the fun of imagining a limitless future? I'm no expert on these things, but I think "Oden and Roy" has a nice sound to it, not unlike "Magic and Kareem" or "Shaq and Kobe". Only without the foul stench of Lakerdom. They've had a succession of great teams and enough rings to open a jewelry store. Could it maybe, possibly, eventually, mercifully, rapturously, sorta kinda, pretty please, just one teensy weensy time day be our turn to be champions again?