I Moved to Portland Hoping to Watch Live Sports. Then COVID Hit.
February feels like many moons ago, but it was some drizzly evening back then when I made a corner Lightning Will barstool on NW 21st my office (back when bars didn’t feel like coronavirus cauldrons). Jusuf Nurkić was coming off a year-long hiatus after suffering an unimaginable, season-ending injury. On a tip-in attempt against the Nets, Nurkić came down and fractured his left leg between the knee and ankle. That he was returning, after what could have been a career-ending injury, after months of intense physical therapy, was inspiring, a testament to our capacity to fall and to get back up and to overcome. I felt that. This city felt that. And it was beautiful.
And then the coronavirus happened. And instead of witnessing the return of Jusuf Nurkić, we all watched tale of the Tiger King.
I like sports in the way that I like cake: I almost always have it someone else’s party, and I almost always have some silly grin on my face when I do. I like sports. I just don’t really seek ’em out, which is odd to me now, because I grew up playing them. Basketball, baseball. Football. Lord—I looked like a little boy donning armor for the Battle of Helm’s Deep in my giant shoulder pads and helmet. Through sports I formed deep relationships with my teammates, who later became my friends. I felt the joys of victory (sometimes) and the agony of defeat (mostly). I learned about the direct correlation between preparation and success. I learned how to work as a team. And maybe that’s why I like journalism. It’s a unification of strengths and talents and minds toward one goal, which is to try to give readers our best work.
My father was my baseball coach. I used to watch Lakers games with him, and grew up during the Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derick Fisher dynasty. I was basking in that Phil Jackson-still-steaming-from-a-smoking-hot-three-peat-with-the-Bulls-only-to-catch-on-fire-during-another-three-peat-with-the-Lakers kind of glow that made me invincible (and insufferable). And then I lost interest. Not sure why. But I wasn’t getting any taller and couldn’t really play basketball with the kids who sprouted like a bean stalk. I moved to Arizona, and started hanging around with artists, kids who couldn’t stand sports, and then sports became less fun because there was no one there to enjoy them with.
A sports writing internship in Flagstaff a few years back reignited some deep admiration I had for the game, reminded me of the ways it interweaves drama, race, and politics. I covered high school basketball in a town that has nary an interest in sports unless you wanted to be like Phoenix and root for the Suns—and Flagstaff, a sleepy little mountain town, would never be caught dead looking like Phoenix. Since then, I told myself that if I ever moved to bigger town, a sports town, I’d be a sports fan. In Portland, there’s a Trailblazer or a Timber or a Pickle on every wall, window, and ceiling. And that all-encompassing, city-wide support gave me an opportunity to find community, to talk with our food critic Karen Brooks about Dame’s three-point range, to sit in bars with the regulars asking them why they call it Rip City, to scout tickets to the Moda Center for Nurkić’s return.
Now, to watch the games live at the Moda Center is impossible. To watch them in a bar seems irresponsible. To watch this current Bubble Tournament matchup between the Lakers and the Blazers, alone in my studio apartment, asking my father to slowly spell out his email and password information so I can watch the goddamn game on TNT, is … well, not the same. Because whether at home, at a friend’s house, at a restaurant, at Dodger Stadium, the Staples Center, the Coliseum, the Moda Center, or Providence Park, to watch sports is in many ways a social event. It is to be a part of this real and imagined community bearing witness to the spectacle, to scream with sheer elation at the Derek Fisher’s 0.4 buzzer beater, to mourn the sudden and tragic loss of Kobe Bryant.
Sports offer a distinct kind of respite from the constant coronavirus barrage. They offer an important reminder of systemic racism. They offer an invite to community at a time when we need it the most. There’s something special about living in a town that takes pride in its sports and consistently backs its teams, down 3-1 or not, physically together or not. Don’t tell my family in LA, but I’m low-key hoping for a Blazers pull through. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
As Aragorn told that boy in Helm's Deep: there is always hope.