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Valentine still feels the love

Blazers, fans comfort man who lost his ‘dream job’
by: JIM CLARK, Darnell Valentine, former director of player programs with the Blazers, was laid off this winter, but he keeps at his daily workout across the street from the team’s training facility and already has his eye on the next opportunity.

Darnell Valentine works out daily at Club Sport, the athletic club that sits across the street from the Trail Blazers’ training facility in Tualatin. The situation drips with irony. Not long ago, Valentine was on the inside of the training facility looking out as the Blazers’ director of player programs. On Dec. 11, that all changed. Valentine was on the road with the team in Philadelphia when then-President Steve Patterson delivered the bad news: He was being laid off. “I call it my 12/11,” says Valentine, who had been on the job for 2 1/2 years. Patterson, who resigned March 1, declines comment on the matter. Mike Golub, Portland’s executive vice president of business operations, says the club “let a handful of people go … largely driven by financial considerations.” With a player payroll of more than $73 million and in negotiations to buy back the Rose Garden, Blazer owner Paul Allen — whose net worth is estimated at $18 billion — probably could have wobbled on, even while paying Valentine’s low-six-figure salary. Valentine was replaced by Chris Bowles, who had been community connections manager and assumes Valentine’s responsibilities along with his own. The position of director of player programs was created as a result of the “Jail Blazer” image and as part of Patterson’s 25-point pledge to the team’s fans. Valentine, who had been a regional representative to the NBA Players Association, is a former Blazer player who relished the opportunity to connect with players and help guide them through situations that arise in daily life. Then — poof! — he was out of work. “It was my dream job,” says Valentine, 48. “I left a job I’d held for 11 years. I had the intention of being with the organization for a long time. (Blazer management) encouraged me to apply for the position. I’ve always considered myself a Trail Blazer at heart.” Valentine says he had reached the point where he felt he had made a connection with the Blazer players. “Players have so many things coming at them,” he says. “Sometimes they’re a little bit leery at first. It took me my first year or two to develop the type of relationship with players I needed to have. They needed to see what I was about, what I was trying to do. “It was really cool I finally got there. I was getting closer and closer to the players. When you’re with the Players Association, you’re kind of like Uncle Joe coming by. When you’re part of the family, you know all the secrets, all the goings-on, and you can have more of an impact.” Coach Nate McMillan, who had nothing to do with Valentine’s dismissal, felt it, too. “Darnell had experience dealing with the players and the Players Association, understanding the change that was needed not only in this organization but the entire league,” McMillan says. “He was well-connected to the (union). The things we were trying to do, the league was already doing. He knew how to get in contact with counselors and that sort of thing. I thought he did a really good job for us.” The next adventure begins If Valentine is bitter, he hides it well. “I’m so thankful for the opportunity,” he says. “It prepared me for where I’m going now. The thing I’m learning is I could have done a lot of things better. I could have created a better value for that position so as you’re not so expendable. That’s on me.” The position with the Blazers “opened up a whole new world for me,” he says. “I’m like Columbus — on to my next adventure. I don’t have time to be bitter. It would just be bitterness I would hold inside myself. The team is moving on. They don’t care. I have to move on.” In the next breath, though, Valentine says this: “I think I did a great job. … They got their money’s worth. I don’t have any regrets or guilts. I wasn’t stealing money from those people. I can’t let them determine my value and my future. I became closer to how organizations are run, the mechanics, the dynamics. I’m using that experience in my next (job). I’m going to be fine regardless.” What next? First is impending hip surgery. “I’m bone on bone,” he says. After recovery, Valentine says he will probably accept an offer from Precision Castparts Corp. assisting supervisors in boosting the production of its work force. “It’s a great opportunity for me to get involved in that corporation,” he says. “I’m going to be on a huge learning curve, but I’m real excited about it.” It was important to him to stay in Portland. “I’m not moving,” says Valentine, who lives in Tigard with his wife, Cindy, and their daughter, Tierra, a senior at Tualatin High. “I’m not about to go to another city. … I love Portland. I’ve been around the country enough to know I want to live here.” Hundreds of fans reach out Valentine likes the direction the Blazers are headed. “The quality of players now is awesome,” he says. “They’ve repositioned the organization to where it better reflects in the community. That was so vital. They had to do that.” Valentine says he has spoken with every Blazer player since he left the club. He heard from hundreds of Blazer fans after his dismissal. “It was so overwhelming,” he says. “I was so humbled by the reaction. It was like, ‘Whoa.’ It was like a living eulogy. I was so grateful the people responded like they did. That was worth it in itself in many ways.” Soon, Valentine says, he will begin a new career. “You want to be somewhere,” he says, “where you can make a difference.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.