After years of studying scientific research and compiling anecdotal evidence, I have reached a conclusion: Middle age begins at 47.
Which is interesting, because last year the evidence suggested that middle age began at 46, and a decade before that it started at 36. I’m pretty sure that next year it officially will begin at 48, which means that I will still be young.
Yet while you can debate about the age at which the last vestiges of youth inexplicably flee your body, there is no disputing this: If you can remember the Blazers’ lone NBA title, you are getting old.
It has been 35 years now.
Or at least it will be 35 years as of Tuesday, which, as luck would have it, is exactly 35 years after June 5, 1977. And anybody who was a basketball fan and living in this area at that time will never forget that day.
The Blazers had spent the first six seasons of their existence missing the playoffs and losing more often than the Buffalo Braves. Seriously, they were worse than an NBA team that was in Buffalo and soon became the Clippers.
Suddenly, in their seventh season, in a league that had been revamped by a merger with the ABA, with a team that had been remade by a relatively healthy Bill Walton and a new coach in Jack Ramsay, Portland had a contender and Blazermania was born.
The Blazers went 49-33 during the regular season; they won a best-of-3 MMA match against Chicago in three games in the first round; they beat Denver in six games; and they swept the Lakers, who had the best record in the league, in the Western Conference finals.
After losing the first two games of the NBA Finals against Philadelphia, the Blazers beat the 76ers in the next four to win the title. It was a series that became a shrine for basketball purists, with the concept of team basketball triumphing over a collection of one-on-one standouts — not unlike the Mavericks’ victory over the Heat in last year’s Finals.
And Portland’s title team had — get this — the youngest roster in the league. The Blazers’ starters in the Finals were 25, 24, 23, 23, and 21, indicating that a dynasty was in the making. Until it wasn’t. Walton’s feet had other ideas.
Which brings us today’s lesson: Winning a championship in the NBA is more difficult than in the other major-league sports. Since the Blazers’ championship, 11 franchises have won an NBA title. Meanwhile, 20 clubs have won a World Series, 15 teams have won a Super Bowl, and 15 have captured a Stanley Cup.
The NBA is so dominated by superstars that teams tend to latch on to a title and hold it for a couple years. You don’t luck into a title if Andre Iguodala is your best player.
Which helps explain why Portland hasn’t returned to the top of the NBA in the past 35 years. It hasn’t had a Mountain Man to lead the way. It hasn’t had a transcendent player like Walton was in his prime, somebody who is good enough to carry a team to a championship.
In that regard, the Blazers are no different from 19 other NBA franchises over the past 35 years. But it makes it difficult to get excited about Portland having a ton of salary-cap space this offseason or about possessing the sixth and 11th picks in next month’s draft.
Yes, there is reason to believe the Blazers will get better in the immediate future. No, there’s no reason to think that a championship will arrive in the foreseeable future.
And so we are left with nothing but glowing memories of 35 years ago.
Dang, that makes me feel old.