Paying homage, if not attention
Opening night of any sport is special, if for no other reason than it's a rare opportunity to catch your favorite sportswriters wearing ties. The Trail Blazers offered up a real three-ring circus Saturday.
But make sure you don't miss the point Ñ the front office is trying very hard to reconnect with the good old days. And really, why not? A lot of this franchise's great moments are on film rather than DVD.
So you trot Bill Schonely out to center court before the game to deliver a pep talk. Everyone loves the Schonz Ñ but, really, I'm not sure his presence ensures that Rasheed Wallace won't be a jerk this season. Former Blazers were introduced, although only one was actually shown on camera.
Old video included a too-brief clip of Bill Walton yanking that jersey off at the end of the 1977 NBA Finals. Interviews with fans were shown, too Ñ indicating some sort of community buy-in. 'We are Trail Blazers' was the theme. Well, maybe they meant 'We are trailblazers.'
Early in the game, many fans certainly weren't Trail Blazers Ñ they were booing the team for its rather passive start. The home side turned things around, though, and the crowd jumped on the bandwagon. Nevertheless, I think the early jeers are indicative of the fragile relationship this team has with the public.
LeBron James, probably a little softened up from two days in the Nike village in Beaverton Ñ where folks undoubtedly constantly told him how great he is Ñ was almost a no-show. He didn't assert himself.
Even though Cleveland knew that Damon Stoudamire would be defending James, the Cavaliers seemed to have no plan for how to take advantage of James' 10-inch height advantage.
Maurice Cheeks did his usual number on the sideline Ñ an act unique in pro sports. He's constantly bantering with fans, even turning his back on game action (countless times) to flash what he seems to assume is a cute grin when he delivers a punch line.
When he yelled at Ruben Patterson to stay with his man, he turned to the fans and asked them to 'watch him now. Watch what he does. You heard what I told him.' Of course, Patterson Ñ like the big family dog with no attention span who will follow anybody down the sidewalk Ñ wandered away from the guy he was supposed to guard.
'See,' Cheeks said to the crowd.
If I knew a player wouldn't do what I wanted him to do, I'm not sure I'd play him. And I think I'd find enough happening on the floor to keep me so busy I wouldn't have time to chatter with the paying customers.
But I'm old-fashioned that way.
I'm not among those who believe that the Blazers are without talent or playoff possibilities. The starting lineup is very good, as long as players don't get too resentful of Zach Randolph and all his shots. And as long as Wallace, Patterson and Bonzi Wells at least make it look as if they're listening to Cheeks. Even though it appears they don't.
Well, maybe that's why Cheeks chats with fans.