PORTLAND, Ore. — A Portland Trail Blazers big man is becoming best buds with Oregon's senior senator. A friendship that starts with a love for basketball and politics.
Long before U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden became one of the top elected officials in the country, his passion was basketball.
"I grew up and all I wanted to do was play in the NBA," said Wyden during the KGW's 3-on-3 Blazers podcast.
Wyden landed a scholarship to play ball at UC Santa Barbara, but reality soon set in.
"At 6-foot-4, I was too small and I made up for it by being really slow, so it wasn't going to happen," Wyden joked.
He never lost his shooting touch, though. Even when he got to Washington D.C.
"With respect to the alleged shooting contest, it took place in the House," Wyden recalled. "There were 50 shots in the contest. I missed the first one, ran the next 24, missed another one, ran like another 20-some. I made 47 out of 50 [free throws]," said Wyden. "I will tell you, I live in fear that there will be some charitable event and everybody says, 'Shoot some free throws,' and I'll make like 26 out of 50 and everybody will call the big event a fraud."
Wyden is a big Portland Trail Blazers fan and still remembers the day they won it all.
"I think every season is going to be a repeat of '77 with that parade in '77 with Jack [Ramsay] and Bill Walton," said Wyden. "Rip City is always about the relationship between us fans, of which I am a hearty member, and the players which are very community-minded. So, I think about '77, that parade and there will never be a greater memory."
He's got lots of Trail Blazers stories, including one involving former center Arvydas Sabonis.
"Larry Weinberg and Harry Glickman actually sent me to Moscow to talk to the Soviets about bringing Arvydas Sabonis to Portland," Wyden explained. "I thought it was out of the 'Rocky' movie because I'm sitting there talking to all these political leaders in Moscow and I'm wondering, shoot am I going to get out of here safely or not?"
"Every time I'd say something, I offered this letter from Larry Weinberg and Harry, one of them would go, 'nyet,' and I said to myself I don't think this is going too well," Wyden said.
From one Blazers big man to another, Wyden has built a friendship with center Enes Kanter.
"He was in our community and he had a real problem. Turkey's president Erdogan, a real authoritarian, stripped him of his passport, harassing his dad, his family and basically encouraging other countries to arrest him," Wyden said of Kanter's situation. "So, we just got together and it's just been a wonderful friendship."
Kanter surprised Wyden by dropping in during the Zoom interview.
"Oh my gosh my buddy is right there?," said Wyden with excitement in his voice.
"How are you guys doing? We are actually practicing," said Kanter ahead of the Trail Blazers game at Golden State. "This is our locker room right now I'll show it to you, but I just wanted to say hi."
Wyden immediately replied, "I've been reading the stories about how you might want to go into politics, so I'm going to head senior citizens for Enes because you've got such a warm way with people. I describe it that you've got the shooter's touch for public service."
"You are one of the biggest reasons I want to get into politics because I see leaders like you can make a big change, impact lives and touch hearts, so you inspire me," Kanter responded.
Kanter and Wyden said they're working on a couple of projects together and plan to make an announcement in the near future.
To hear more of the interview, pick up the KGW 3-on-3 Blazers podcast.
LISTEN: KGW's 3-on-3 Blazers Podcast