My Favorite Offseason Memory


I’ll admit it: sometimes it’s tough to find stuff to write about during the offseason.

Rather than take you head-first into LaMarcus Aldridge trade speculation (Did he ask for a trade? Is Robin Lopez enough at center to keep him happy?) or nitpick some of the many (and, I think, good) moves Neil Olshey pulled this offseason, I thought I’d share my favorite offseason memory and ask you to give us your own.

Here goes mine:

The date was October 12, 1999. I was a snot-nosed 14-year-old about 7 or 8 years into Blazers fandom, and I was really, really excited to see my first-ever live Blazers game!

You may be wondering a few things: how is it that I couldn’t have seen a Blazers game in person after so many years, and how could it be the offseason if I were about to watch a game? Fair questions: I lived in Corvallis and it was a tough sell to get my parents to drive to Portland, and it was a preseason game… technically not the offseason, but close enough for this column.

At any rate, it was doubly-exciting because the Blazers were playing their I-5 rivals, the gone-but-not-forgotten Seattle Supersonics (We miss you! Come back soon), triply-exciting because Gary Payton would be playing (went to Oregon State) as would Brent Barry (also went to Oregon State, and someone who I got to meet in person during a Beavers game), and quadruply-exciting because the game was going to be played IN CORVALLIS!

It’s hard to properly express what a big deal this was for me, so I won’t try. Just trust that it was a huge freakin’ deal.

On the eve of the game, I put on out my newly-purchased “Blaz’n Hot: 1999 Playoffs” t-shirt, grabbed my bike, and booked it for Gill Coliseum on Oregon State’s campus, an arena that I had snuck into many times as a kid to play basketball in near darkness. Miraculously, I had never been told to leave. Stories from those times would be a whole story unto itself, but I digress.

The game itself is tough to remember. What was even tougher was finding evidence of the result from 1999 here in 2013. Maybe it’s Y2K playing a little joke on me, but I didn’t realize how hard it would be to find specific information on the internet for stuff that happened less than 15 years ago. Try finding the results for preseason games in 1999 and you’ll feel my pain. It’s after many furious Google searches and an epiphany to use the Internet Time Machine that I bring you this link, which I hold in high enough esteem to give its very own paragraph:

Proof that the game happened.

…granted it doesn’t have a box score, but the Blazers won, and it was a great night.

***

The game and its result aren’t what made that night so memorable, so we’ll skip that. It’s what happened after.

The crowd had more or less filed out of Gill Coliseum, and I was heading back to my bike when I noticed a small group of people standing next to the northwest corner of building, the part that faces the tennis courts (for those of you who know Corvallis and Oregon State’s campus well enough to know). I thought it was a little odd, so I asked what the deal was. Before I got the answer, I figured it out: there was a temporary waist-high gate and, about 40 or 50 feet beyond it, a number of very large buses.

Blazers buses.

Being the excitable teenager I was, I decided I would camp out with the group of the most dedicated fans and wait for a glimpse of the players.

So I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Scanning between the various doors from which I was sure one of these living legends would emerge, I noticed movement! There! Here they come… wait. It’s just a regular person. They made their way out of the door and onto the bus, followed by a few more in staggered succession, maybe trainers, maybe girlfriends, maybe wives.

After waiting a few more minutes, it really happened. It was them. THE Blazers. I knew them all by heart. Arvydas Sabonis. Damon Stoudamire. Rasheed Wallace. As they came within a stone’s throw of the temporary gate, other fans started holding out pens, basketballs, photographs, T-shirts. They wanted autographs.

An autograph! Why hadn’t I thought of that??? But I had nothing they could sign! And all the while, the players were parading past, through the doors, down the walkway, and directly into the bus. Nobody was stopping anyway, I thought, so there wasn’t any point. The fans were disappointed. Among the calls to get the players’ attention were grumblings of discontent. Not that we had any right: it was pretty late, and the players were facing a bus ride out of a town that had little to no late-night action to speak of.

As the last of the players came through, people started to disperse; disappointed, shoulders hunched, excitement having boiled down into disappointment… when from the door emerged a large, rasta-headed, 6-foot-infinity power forward by the name of… you know it already… Brian Grant.

He didn’t play that night. Honestly, I didn’t think there was anyone left to get on the bus, but it struck me as odd that I could have forgotten: I’ve worn #44 with every basketball jersey in memory because of him, modeled my preference for rebounding over scoring because of him, wished that I could have grown dreadlocks like him (mercifully, I never tried).

As he made his way to the bus, the excitement picked back up. ‘Can you sign this? Can I get your autograph? Brian! Hey, Brian! Brian, over here!’ With a busload of players ready to leave, nursing a knee which he didn’t play on until a handful of weeks later, Brian Grant looked at he bus, held up his finger (just a second), and ambled over to the temporary gate.

The fans erupted in applause. Pens shot from under light jackets and sweaters. Basketballs appeared out of  thin air. Photos were fanned like so many programs in an overcrowded theater. And there I was. With nothing to have signed, and no instrument with which to sign even if I did. Nothing.

Except…

***

I’m not sure what he must have thought, honestly. Maybe he didn’t notice. Maybe he didn’t care. What I do know is that of all of the Blazers that were in Corvallis that night, only one of them went out to the fans. That man was Brian Grant. It’s not a knock on anyone else, but a reflection of his generosity and understanding. It’s no surprise that he’s now a vocal advocate for a disease that couldn’t have struck a less-deserving target in Parkinson’s.

Sometimes, though, I do wonder what he thought as he came through the crowd, using someone else’s black sharpie, and signed his name for a shirtless teenager on a crisp October night. In hindsight, I probably could have left it on. But I was so excited. My mind was a whirl.

And that is my favorite Blazers offseason memory.

What’s yours? We’d love if you shared them. Make a new comment or link us to your blog. I’ll be sure to read them.


Tags: Brian Grant Portland Trail Blazers