So I’m on the couch watching the Blazers the other night. And I’m trying to dissect this feeling in my chest. It’s kind of fuzzy and a little warm and just a tad bit anxious. The ladyfriend turns to me, stops, and asks me why I’m sitting on the edge of a cushion and grinning like Karl Childers from "Sling Blade."
I tried to equate it to her as the kind of gleeful, hopeful, slightly parental feeling you get when you "spend a lot of time and effort training you dog NOT to pee on the carpet. When he starts pawing at the back door to do his business you almost get a tear in your eye from the pride and relief festering in your gut."
That’s how I feel about the Blazers and, in particular, Greg Oden right now.
Oden is a study in naivety right now. He is unspoiled. He feels everything. Every mistake, every cheer, every tiny triumph and emphatic milestone…It’s right there on his face between his ever-furrowed brow and wide eyes. He knows the nauseating heights of expectation and he’s doing his best to impress us. And as fans, we appreciate it. We’re like that weird pseudo-psychic connection Elliott shared with E.T. When he hurts, we hurt. When he hammers home a thundering two-handed slam over Kevin Love, we too feel like we’re shoving our crotch intimidatingly into a player’s face. A couple of nights ago after he got poked in the eye and had to leave the game, the camera panned to Oden on the bench. Next to him Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge were talking to each other. Oden was staring off into space. From the ladyfriend’s vantage point it looked like they were excluding the big man from the conversation. "Talk to him," she said to the screen. "Do you think they include him? Do you think they LIKE him?"
She’s a lifelong Northwesterner and I’m pretty sure she NEVER felt like that about Duckworth or Drexler.
Fact is, Oden IS kind of a nerd. He’s a little awkward. A little left of center. He likes karaoke and comic books. He is not cool…and I LOVE that.
This will all change, of course. He will eventually become numb to the stardom, to the adoration, to having a city of 500,000 hanging on his every rim-rattling dunk and bitch-slapping rejection. That will get old and he will likely become just another bored-sounding athlete who makes the amazing seem rote. We’ll still love him to death, but he’ll seem less real, less connected to us. Less relatable.
This will probably happen. But I hope not.