Recall the athletic mood of Washington the year the Redskins went to the Super Bowl and the year the Bullets made the finals of the NBA playoffs and you have a fine notion of the affection this area has for the newest sports sensation, the Trail Blazers.
Civic functions often either are shortened or rescheduled if they conflict with a Blazer game. The commencement ceremony at Williamette University was interrupted briefly to announce the score of Portland's 99-97 playoff victory over the Lakers. One Joy Bucher stood in line 10 hours to buy a standing-room ticket.
"The Trail Blazers are giving us enormous national identity," said Oliver Larson, executive secretary of the Portland Chamber of Commerce. "They're creating a lot of new wealth for us in terms of market identity."
"And market identity is terrible important to Portland. In wholesale activity, we're ranked around 15th in the nation. In population, we're ranked around 33. In New York, they think of the West Coast as Los Angeles and Seattle. Portland is 'on' the West Coast.
"Once a city gets identity, that translates quite soon into some sort of investment. The first is a vacation out here. A guy then decides to have a branch office here, then he says he has to have a warehouse too . . . then he decides to make his sausages or something here."
Even though the Philadelphia 76ers made mincement of the Trail Blazers in the first two games of the NBA finals, more than 1,000 fans welcomed the team at the late Friday afternoon. And a capacity crowd of 12,000 will see Sundays third game (WTOP-TV9, 3:30 p.m.).
The Trail Blazers, just six years old, had stumbled along with such a Dele Schuleter, Rick Adelman, Jim Barnett, Leroy Ellis, Claude English, Gary Gregory, Shaler Halimon, Ron Knight, Ed Manning, Stan McKenzie and one fine player, Geoff Petria. They were 29-53 their first year, 18-64 their second, 21-61 their third.
In truth, the Trail Blazers are hard evidence that a team can be wildly successful in spite of itself, that incompetence can, and eventually will, be rewarded in professional sports. Incredibly, the year the Blazers made the NBA finals is their first year with a record better than 38-44.
The Blazers reached the NBA finals four years after making LaRue Martin the No. 1 pick in the entire draft, and three years after a draft in which no one they chose made a significant difference to the team.
Portland made the NBA finals after trading their two top scores, Sidney Wicks and Petrie, and a young center named Mases Malone - and after hiring's coach fired after last season by Buffalo, Jack Ramsay.
Only five players - Bill Walton, Lionel Hollins, Bob Gross, Larry Steele and Lloyd Neal - were with the team last season. Maurice Lucas came in the trade of Petrie and Steve Hawes to Atlanta. Walton was told of the arrival of another player last summer.
"Who's that?" he said. "Dave Twardzik."
"No, I haven't met him," Walton said. "He's been playing four year (in the ABA) and I haven't heard of him. He can't be much."
That was the reaction throughout the NBA until Twardzik, a graduate of Old Dominion, began to play. His injury has been a significant one against the 76ers.
From being shuffled out of Buffalo last season. Ramsay finds himself grand marshal of tip Portland Rose Festival June 11. And a confident attitude began to blossom here shortly after the team Ramsay assembled went on display.
Still, not everything was coming up roses even before the 76ers' series began. Ticket scaplers started doing such a brisk business that the City Council passed an ordinance against them. Then another familiar form of scalping took place - which Don Upham eloquently described in a letter to the editor in the Portland Oregonian 11 days ago.
"If an individual legitimately buys a Trail Blazer playoff ticket and sells it at a 51-cent profit, an outraged City Council will pompously brand him a crook," Upham wrote. "Yet, the Blazer management raises the price of 12,000 playoff tickets an average of $3 each, for a $36,000 windfall, and the same City Council selflessly urges the taxpayers to build them a new coliseum. Equal treatment?"