Portland Trail Blazers
Owner: Paul Allen
General manager: Neil Olshey
Head coach: Terry Stotts
Current stars: LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard
All-time greats: Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler, Geoff Petrie
NBA champions: 1977
Western Conference Champions: 1977, 1990, 1992
Parking, directions, planning:http://www.rosequarter.com/
Back in the 1990s when he was just a little kid, Ricky Carlson would climb up on the sofa with his dad and brothers, eager to get into the excitement of watching Clyde Drexler glide to the basket for a big dunk or finger roll.
Carlson, now 24, considers himself a lifelong fan of the Portland Trail Blazers. And it's something the young Orchards father hopes to pass along to his daughter, 20-month-old Ella Mae, and his 2-week-old son when they get older.
"My son, Mytas Carlson, he was born Dec. 28 — that's the same day we played the Miami Heat," Carlson said. "The day he was born we watched that game. We lost 107-108, and I was almost worried he'd jinx them, but we've won since that time so we're good."
Mytas and Ella Mae picked a good time to be born. The "Jail Blazers" era from 2001 to 2005, with its shady characters and drug-related arrests, is long gone, the players replaced by a young squad of talented athletes that fans are proud to root for.
Backstopped by LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, they've become a team to beat in the Western Conference.
"I think that's why this season is so sweet," Carlson said. "Things had been so bad in the Jail Blazers era, you couldn't believe they loved the game or follow them when they were such bad role models. Now LaMarcus Aldridge has taken over as the leader of our team. He's a great player, but he's also a humble guy, a nice guy. He has both heart and talent."
If you haven't been to a game in a while, or are new to the area and looking for a bandwagon to jump on, this is a great time to join young Mytas and Ella Mae's journey, Carlson said.
He goes to at least three or four games a season and watches the rest on television. And either way of following the team is great — but the memories you form going to a game are something new fans should seriously consider, he said.
"To be there, to be part of it, especially if they make it to the playoffs," Carlson said. "It's so much better to live it. And it's definitely a season to give it a peek."
The team has gone through a wide array of changes just in the past two years, with new General Manager Neil Olshey and head coach Terry Stotts making some slick draft picks and off-season acquisitions to add players like Lillard and Robin Lopez, said Michael Lewellen, a spokesman for the Trail Blazers.
"This is a journey," Lewellen said. "This is a process. They don't give trophies away. This is a plan."
Changes have also taken place in the Moda Center, which switched its name from the Rose Garden. The Blazers updated the selection of music during games, added local restaurants as vendors and a began a campaign of greater service-orientation toward fans, Lewellen said.
"We really want an experience at a Trail Blazers game to be exciting, both on the court and off," Lewellen said.
If you decide to check it out, David Elliot, a 26-year-old Vancouver fan, suggests picking a game against a big rival like the Los Angeles Lakers — because the crowds get really pumped up.
"I really like to watch, if possible, the big Western Conference matches," Elliot said. "And of course, it's always great to see the Lakers lose."
The Trail Blazers play the Lakers at home one more time this season, on March 3.
Elliot's favorite players to watch right now are Aldridge and Wesley Matthews, he said.
"Wesley Matthews, his nickname is Iron Man," Elliot said. "He's all about effort, effort, effort. He's just constantly going after guys. And Aldridge? He's just having a phenomenal season. He really is the best power forward. And he's been with us his entire career."
Carlson said he loves Aldridge and Lillard, but Brandon Roy, who recently retired because of chronic knee problems, was one of his all-time favorites.
"He was just an amazing ballplayer," Carlson said. "He was passionate about the team, just an amazing face for the franchise."
His best tip for going to games? Park at Cascade Station or Lloyd Center and ride light rail to the Moda Center.
"You pay $5 for the MAX all-day pass but it's so nice to not have to worry about parking," Carlson said. "Last time I went to a game it took me just 10 minutes from Cascade Station."
Parking gets more expensive the closer you get, with spots near or right at the arena generally going for between $10 and $25.
Carlson said he likes to get his game tickets online at http://www.stubhub.com/ — where's he's found last-minute nose-bleed seats for as low as $6. He also suggests watching a game in the 300-level area, which isn't the best view but "it's funner up there. That's where the action is. The people are more energetic, chanting."
Neither of them would suggest buying tickets from scalpers outside the arena. Unsavory sorts may try to sell printed digital tickets — which can be reprinted on a computer several times. Only one barcode from the original ticket is allowed into the stadium, so if you end up buying a fake duplicate, you'll get stuck at the gate.
Lewellen agrees with that. He said the safest way to get a ticket is through the Trail Blazers website at http://trailblazers.com.
"Buying from someone on the street is a real buyer-beware situation," Lewellen said. "Our website is the best place to get tickets, and there are still lots of games left in the season and a lot of different package options."
Carlson said he hopes to take his kids to a game when they get a bit older. For now, though, he loves watching with them when the Blazers games are shown on television.
"I look forward to all the time I'll get to spend watching games with them and cheering with them," Carlson said. "I hope they'll both be big Blazers fans. They already have some gear. But I'll love them no matter what."
He paused for a second.
"Still, I really hope they are," Carlson said.