“Hey, Dad,” said the boy, pointing to the rafters during a Rose Garden tour. “Whose uniform was that?”
The man looked up.
“That, son, was Clyde Drexler’s. He scored almost 7,000 more points than any Blazer ever.
“Whoa!” said the boy. “He must be, like, the hero of Portland!”
This time the man looked down.
“Not exactly, son. You see, there’s a book coming out soon that has Clyde saying some things about Magic Johnson that were pretty classless.”
“Classless?” asked the boy. “You mean like summer vacation?”
“Um, no, kiddo. I mean like … not very nice. Magic Johnson was an awesome basketball player who used to play for the Lakers, a team that almost always beat the Blazers. But he had to stop playing when he was 32 because he got a very bad disease called HIV. This made a lot of people cry, even Blazers fans.
“Still, he came back and played in the All-Star game three months later and won the MVP after scoring 25 points! But the author of the book wrote that Clyde said that he would have gotten MVP if people didn’t think Magic was going to die, and that Magic probably wouldn’t have made the Olympic team if people knew how long he was going to live.”
The boy looked upset.
“If Clyde was 6 like me, I wouldn’t invite him to my birthday party. He sounds mean. Is that why he isn’t the hero of Portland, because he said those mean things?”
“Well, it’s not just that, son. In fact, Clyde said he didn’t say those things. But even if he didn’t, I think that reminded people of other things he said — like how the only difference between him and Michael Jordan was that Jordan shot the ball more times.
“And I think that reminded people of how Drexler never won a championship with the Blazers. Did you know that Magic won five with the Lakers, and that Jordan won six with the Bulls? But when Clyde finally won, it was with the Rockets. And when he was on TV the next year for a special ceremony for the 50 best players ever, he wore a Rockets jacket! I think all of that’s why he’s not the hero of Portland.”
“Ohhhh,” said the boy, before pointing to another jersey, “Well what about that guy?”
“Ah. That was Bill Walton, son. They called him the big redhead.”
“Like Carrot Top?!” the boy exclaimed.
“Yes, but way funnier. Walton was MVP in the NBA Finals in 1977, when the Blazers won their only championship. And the next year, he won MVP for the whole entire season!”
“Whoa!” said the boy. “So is he the hero of Portland?”
The man sighed.
“No, son. Walton got hurt in 1978 and didn’t think the Blazers did a good job of getting him better. So he stopped playing for them forever. He said sorry 30 years later, but he is definitely not the hero of Portland.
“So who is the hero of Portland, Dad?”
“I don’t know if there is one, son. I think a lot of people thought it was going to be your old favorite, Brandon Roy, but he didn’t get to play here long because he hurt his knees. I still think they’ll put his uniform up there though, and that will be 13 retired uniforms in all — six more than the Lakers!
“Cool!” the boy said. “But Dad, you said the Lakers won a whole bunch more games than the Blazers. How come they have less retired uniforms?”
The man paused.
“I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that, son.”
“Oh,” replied the boy, momentarily perplexed. “So will there ever be a hero of Portland?”
“I sure hope so, because just about every other city with an NBA team has one — even if they’ve never won a title. Indianapolis has Reggie Miller. Salt Lake City has John Stockton and Karl Malone. Phoenix has Steve Nash. And Atlanta has Dominique Wilkins.
“And if the town doesn’t have a good basketball team — or any basketball team — there’s usually a hero from another sport, like John Elway in Denver, Cal Ripken in Baltimore, George Brett in Kansas City, or Tony Gwynn in San Diego.
“But I guess that’s what makes this time of year so exciting, son. You know what Thursday night is, right? It’s the NBA Draft! That’s when the Blazers get to choose players from college or another country to join them. And who knows, they have the sixth and 11th picks this year, so maybe a future city hero will finally come here — like Tim Duncan in San Antonio or Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston.
“And guess what, son? This year, we have a new general manager to make those picks, a guy who left the Clippers because he wanted to help us instead!”
“Whoa!” said the boy. “How many retired uniforms do the Clippers have?!”
The man shook his head and rolled his eyes.
“Son, you ask way too many questions.”
Matt Calkins covers the Blazers for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4528, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org