The mania is no more
Blazermania, as we know it, is officially dead. Buried.
It isn't just the smallest-in-Rose-Garden-history crowds this week. Take a look at the 'fans' who did show up. How many replica jerseys did you see in those seats? How many people were wearing Blazer hats, shirts, jackets or other gear? Almost no one.
A lot of people now resist the urge to stand and cheer when the starting lineup is announced.
And in the near term, it can only get worse.
You're hearing that a down economy is a reason the Blazers aren't selling tickets. I'm sure it's a factor, but not the major one. Fact is, Portlanders are just about to the point where they not only don't like this team, but they hate it.
They don't want to cheer for these players. They are not proud to wear merchandise that says 'Blazers' on it. They don't want to wear Bonzi Wells' No. 6 on their backs. Many are in the Rose Garden only because they've already committed to buying the tickets on a long-term contract. Some people go but don't invest their hearts in either team Ñthey just sit on their hands and watch.
Still others Ñ perhaps more than you'd think Ñ actively root against the home team, believing that only a barrage of losses will affect long-term franchise change.
It's a lot more difficult to rebuild a team than a lot of people make it out to be. Over and over, I hear it suggested that all the team really needs to do is have a lousy season, bounce down into the lottery, pick up a big-time player and be good again.
It doesn't work that way. Once you fall to the lottery, it's like a bath in quicksand. Ask the Hawks, Clippers, Warriors, Sonics, Bulls or Wizards about it. Ask the great genius, Jerry Krause, about it. You don't draw the high pick you need, you can't get a player who helps, and the losing mentality quickly seeps into the attitude of your players.
It's criminal what Bob Whitsitt did to this franchise. The man should be extradited, brought back to Portland in a paddy wagon and charged with grand theft Ñ for stealing the hearts of basketball fans in Oregon.
He is gone, sure. But the stench remains. Before he left town, he made sure that he'd have a lasting impact on the franchise for years to come.
First, he left all these distasteful players on ridiculous contracts that make them virtually untradable. He could have gracefully gotten out of Maurice Cheeks' contract by letting him go to Philadelphia Ñ allowing a new administration to name its own coach. Then, with almost his last act, he helped stick the team with a player in the first round of the June draft, Travis Outlaw, who is years away from helping. Perhaps a perennial contender such as the Lakers or Spurs would have roster room for such a project, but the Blazers needed a player who could help them win games right now.
You compound that with Paul Allen's desire to move the team back under the salary cap, and you have a front office with its hands tied. Seriously, all those people out there talking Rasheed Wallace trades haven't come to grips with Allen's austerity program. If you trade Wallace Ñ and he has value to teams that, like Portland, want to dump salary Ñ you have to take big contracts back. Allen -isn't yet willing to accept that.
I believe a dark era is looming. If Allen is truly serious about cutting payroll, it is realistic to expect this thing is going to get real ugly.
Ah, Blazermania. It was a beautiful thing.