A couple of years ago, I was invited to lunch by a Blazers official who wanted to know what I thought of the team. "In a word," I said --- "irrelavant." Realizing how harsh that sounded, I tried to expand. "Umm.. I mean that's not good, and it's not bad.. the team is just.. umm, irrelavant."
That changed Thursday night - at Madison Square Garden. With Adam attending a wedding, I was called in from the bullpen to cover the NBA draft, and it was an absolute blast. There were the Blazers, on the national stage, and everyone was talking about the team. But more than that, they were talking about the management, the turnaround, the promise, and the good fortune of getting the number one pick in one of the deepest drafts in years.
Despite all the debate about the pick, I never really thought it was anything but a 'no brainer'. Greg Oden was the obvious pick. It's the reason Blazer fans screamed at the top of their lungs - when the team hit the jackpot in the lottery. And now that I've met him, I feel even stronger about that. What a wonderful young man. It was refreshing to see someone -- facing such enormous expectations -- be so relaxed, comfortable, humble, polite, and accommodating.
After the draft, the NBA guides the players through a gauntlet of interview rooms. Some from national outlets, others for local stations. I literally watched him get ushered around for some two and a half hours - and even though he had a terrible head cold, he smiled the whole time, and answered every question with comfort and ease. Some two hours after he dropped by our location for a live interview during our 5 o'clock news - I was offered the chance to spend a bit more time with him - in a 'quiet' area of MSG. Even seasoned photographers who saw him, said they had never seen a player handle that whole scene so well. As one person told me, "They're either cocky, or shy. That guy is unreal."
For Blazer fans who've been looking for a player to wrap their arms around -- you have one now. This guy is going to be fun to watch, and more than that, he's going to be easy to cheer for. His warmth - and excitement about Portland, were pure and sincere. I asked him if he wished he'd gone to a bigger market, or maybe his hometown Pacers. He wrinkled his forehead, gave me a funny look - and said, "No way. I knew the minute I got off the plane in Portland, there was a lot of love. I can't wait to get together with the 'family' - and get down to business." The wrinkled face, gave way to a huge smile - as he added.. "There are a lot of good things to come."
In many ways, I think Portland is a perfect fit for him. It's not the 'white hot' media market he would face in other big cities. The fans will rally around him -- and they'll support him - through thick and thin - because he's such a likeable guy. And more than anything, Greg Oden has done something for the Blazers -- that we haven't seen in a while. In a word, all of a sudden -- they're relevant.