They say you never forget your first.
And it's true, you don't. Kiss. Car. Bionicle Lego set. All of them memorable, keepsakes, safe from the hurricane of emotion and turmoil that the rest of life turns over.
So it's safe to say that last Friday's Blazers game, the latest of The Resurgence, would find its place in the lockbox of the heart.
But then Roy had to channel Clyde, via Damon, all in front of Terry. Roy, who generally has enough cool to make Fonzie proud, had to go and roar, deafeningly, like he did. Then Travis Outlaw had to snipe with stepback swishes. Then Greg Oden had to bash Shaq, put away soul-shaking dunks, and swipe two huge offensive rebounds in the waning moments. Then the Blazers had to go and play like they did, in the first game I could watch all year.
See, Australia's NBA contract is about as copious as the Bush Administration's limits on terror, meaning that the only Down Under shots I saw of the Blazers were the chopped-up dregs of the internet. Without download speed belonging to the dial-up dinosaurs of the '90s ("Crack Bing Zzzzzzzzp Doom, Doom, Enchhhhhhhhxxxxxxxxx: The Soundtrack of the Decade"), I went without seeing Oden suited up, without watching Rudy Fernandez float like a Spanish butterfly, without catching Roy continue his development to transcendentalism.
But tonight, braving both snow and the extra 30 pounds wrought by my Mom's desserts, I found myself finally ready to see the fruits of the team's labors. My pal's 52-inch TV held the goods, and with Marv Albert calling the shots, I was ready to return to Blazermania.
Welcoming the Phoenix Suns, a team they hadn't beaten since 2006 (11 straight games, enough to qualify as "bothersome"), the Blazers did not take long to recall my feelings of fandom. Sure, absence makes the heart grow fonder, but 5,000 miles of distance could not hold a candle to seeing the team finally coalesce on the court.
The most welcome sight, as you may have guessed, was a clean-shaven Oden—in his Blazers threads. And in the first few minutes, Oden looked the part that he will undoubtedly become. Matching against Shaq in the red-and-black paint—the rookie looked like Zeus warring with Kronos; I'd never seen the generational split more pointed than tonight.
Shaq had clearly invested in the Butterbean diet, looking more like his gravitational pull would click into effect than ever before. The two opened the contest as if on a one-on-one mission, trading pound-and-dunks before finally realizing the others on the floor were teammates, not just fans dressed alike.
Oden, I dare say, showed up Shaq with a monster block on Amare Stoudamire, but foul trouble limited the 20-year-old to the bench for much of the game. The battle for the Rose Garden's heart, it appeared, would be fought on another battleground.
Gettysburg. Metropolis. The Rose Garden's backcourt. All places where heroes have been born. All places that Brandon Roy would thrive. But (as far as I know) in only the latter could Roy show that he is truly a star.
As the Blazers and the Suns traded baskets, it was soon apparent that the game would be a shootout. The halftime score was 66-59, and while fans looked toward chalupas, Roy was warming up for a run that would put Usain Bolt to shame.
Phoenix kept up the pressure, using Amare's gifts and Matt Barnes' threes to keep the game just out of reach for Portland. Soon, a double-digit lead arose, and as time wound down in the third, it looked like head coach Nate McMillan's plans for a win were heading out the door.
But the Roy did what he does best, which, frankly, is exactly what I, and the thousands of Blazers fans watching, expected. He turned the compassion dial down, keyed his Terminator ignition and kicked his game into overdrive. You could almost see his pupils turn an blazing red.
Roy, top of the key, Barnes five feet back, dribble through the legs, quick jump shot from the arc. Swish.
Roy, fast break, going lefty, backboard-then-net. And One.
Roy, crowded with a pair of defenders and a Steve Blake handoff, leaping right to drain the three.
Roy, one-two-stepping. See ya, Shaq.
Roy, with the game tied 119-119 and 1:01 left, put up a game-breaker that everyone knew would fall. And so it did. A pair of Roy free throws later—with a 19-21 night from the charity stripe, you knew those were going in too—the Suns' fate was sealed.
124-119, Blazers. 17-10 on the year, 9-2 at the Rose Garden.
After the dust settled, the chalupas were consumed, and Craig Sager had hung his suit, Roy was credited with 52 points. "A quiet 52," said McMillan. "An eye-popping, door-opening, level-hopping 52," says me. A career high, and second only to Damon Stoudamire's 54 points in 2005 in Blazers history. The game ball, snug on his hip as time expired, was one Roy would be keeping with him for a long, long time.
Much like my memories of this game. Here's to the rest of The Resurgence, and here's to Brandon Roy.