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It sure isnt 77 anymore

SOAPBOX • Blazers' championship days feel long gone
by: GARRETT ELLWOOD, The current incarnation of the Blazers, including (front, from left) Joel Przybilla, Jarrett Jack and Brandon Roy and (back, from left) Martell Webster and LaMarcus Aldridge, may be rekindling fans’ love, but the front office has done little to capitalize on Blazermania of yore.

After the Portland Trail Blazers won their only NBA title on June 5, 1977, an Oregonian reporter wrote: 'It was like the fall of Rome, the opening of the West and the discovery of atomic power at Memorial Coliseum Sunday.'

I remember it all as a seventh-grader in Oregon City. We had all caught the good social disease known as Blazermania.

Thirty years later, to commemorate that mad Oregon time, I self-published an anthology titled 'Red Hot and Rollin': A Retrospection of the Portland Trail Blazers' 1976-77 Championship Season.'

The book featured contributions by some of Oregon's finest writers and included a mind-blowing documentary about the '77 Blazers called 'Fast Break.' The reviews were great.

To promote 'Red Hot,' I barnstormed Oregon with nearly 30 gigs in 60 days. The fans came out and reminisced enthusiastically about the era.

Virtually everyone had an anecdote about meeting one of the Blazers (without his posse) back then: on Newport's bayfront, climbing Mount Hood, in the Rose Garden in Portland.

At every gig, I was asked the same question: What do the Blazers (meaning the front office) think of the book?

I couldn't answer the question back then. But after my recent experience with the team at last month's Wordstock literary festival, I now can.

The Blazers couldn't care less.

At 10:30 p.m. Nov. 9, I received a call from a member of the Blazers' organization.

No member of the team or organization would be showing up to appear at my Wordstock event called 'Blazermania: Past and Present,' scheduled for the next day, despite the fact that I'd spent the previous six months arranging for a player appearance.

The player could either write a short piece on what Blazermania meant to him or what it was like to live in Oregon, or participate in a low-key question-and-answer session. The team was in town that weekend and had Sunday off.

It was all set: a public relations slam-dunk for a franchise trying to reconnect with its city, state and long-lost fans like me.

What could be more sensational than having, say, Greg Oden read to Portlanders? They would go nuts!

After the cancellation, the Blazer rep offered to come by the event and distribute some bobblehead dolls.

'Forget it,' I said. I told him how disappointed I was.

He told me, apologetically, 'The people in the front office don't care about the history.'

I probably knew this all along but kept wanting to believe otherwise.

It was obvious back in April when the organization 'honored' the '77 team with a ceremony at Terry Schrunk Plaza that several members of the local sports media accurately described as a hastily conceived afterthought.

'Cheap' was the word that came to my mind. I was there that rainy afternoon and went up to the Trail Blazers' general manager, Kevin Pritchard. I introduced myself and handed him a copy of 'Red Hot.'

'Watch the movie,' I told him. 'Get the team to watch the movie.'

A week after the Blazers won it all, Sports Illustrated's Curry Kirkpatrick wrote:

'What Blazermania demonstrated beyond anything else was that in an age when pro sports is so often the dull child of dismal bigness, a team by its style, character and wholesome ways can still manage to personalize itself, enchant its audience and make everybody feel good.

The Trail Blazers didn't simply win the NBA championship. They related. They shared. They got down to their people.'

That was then. I got schooled on the now.

Matt Love lives at the Oregon Coast and is the publisher of the Nestucca Spit Press.