Like fans of the Portland Trail Blazers, I woke up Saturday and wondered if it had all been a dream.
After one of the biggest moments in Portland-Vancouver sports history, morning coffee was served with a pinch of euphoria.
And you don’t even have to be a Blazer fan to be buzzing over Damian Lillard’s buzzer beater that won Portland its first playoff series in 14 years.
You don’t even have to be a fan of professional sports. You might be turned off by the big money and egos that make big-time athletics unrelatable to the common person.
In a sports world too often filled with commercialism, posturing and hollow coach-speak, the passion that spilled out of the Moda Center on Friday was raw and genuine.
When Friday’s game ended, most media members headed toward the court from our press seating at the top of the lower bowl.
I went the opposite direction, staking out a spot on the concourse as fans emerged delirious with delight.
I watched grown men scream at the top of their lungs.
I watched strangers hug.
I watched dozens break into spontaneous chants of “Let’s go, Blazers.”
As people headed out of the arena and into the growing din of honking car horns, I wondered if Lillard knew what he had just set off. What must it feel like to know that because of you, a city cheered instead of cursed?
But then Friday’s celebration was about more than one shot in a basketball game. It had been 14 years in the making.
If Lillard had missed that shot, the Blazers would have faced a Game 7 in Houston that they probably would have lost.
The team would have been the latest in a snake-bitten string. Blowing a 3-1 series lead would be the biggest choke since Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, when a fourth-quarter fizzle kept the Blazers from likely winning an NBA title.
What followed was a 14-year walk through the NBA wilderness. The Jail Blazers happened. Greg Oden happened. Brandon Roy’s knees happened.
Friday, something happened that swept up many people who didn’t suffer with the die-hard fans. But don’t criticize anyone who arrived late to the party.
Rather, marvel at the way only sports can ignite a city.
Even if the Blazers don’t win another playoff game this year, they’ve already given us a gift. In a world where people too often feel isolated, they’ve given strangers something to talk about.
And in spite of all that’s wrong with big-time athletics, sports are special because they’re not just about the millionaires on the field or court.
They’re about us.