When Dave Twardzik and his wife returned home after the Trail Blazers' 22-point victory over the Philadephia 76ers Sunday, there were a dozen roses waiting in the mail box.
"Good to see you back on the floor, Dave," said teh attached note. Twardzik has no notion of who sent the flowers, although he was not shocked by the gesture. This town and its team have a special relationship, because they have been able to learn much from one another.
To a man, from the coach, Jack Ramsay, through Bill Walton to the last player off the bench, the Trail Blazers had something to prove to the basketball world this season - and they chose to do it together. When they win, they also offer a stunning clinic on team play.
"Our fast-break offense and our slowdown offense are the same," said Twardzik, who was able to become an important part of both again in game three of the NBA's championship playoff series after an ankle injury. "There's no big adjustment if the break doesn't go. We just spread it out."
And then go into patterns so many coaches teach but all too rarely see executed - especially in the NBA. This is the heart of the Trial Blazer's offense, the play that usually ends with a layup or wide open puts his mind to the job.
"It start with a pass to the forward, with a passing guard going away from the ball," said Twardzik.
"Then the weak-side forward the breaks to the foul line and receives the ball, and the forward who the threw it rubs off Bill.
"One option right there ia a layup, from one forward to the other if the defense isn't alert. The next is a pass to Bill, with the weak-side forward giving the guard a good pick. And so on. It's always motion, motion, motion, pass and cut and pick.
"I think one reason our break's so effective is that everyone knows he's going to get the ball sometime , so he puts out all the time. It's only human nature that if you hustle your butt off two and three times down the court and don't get the ball, the fourth time down you won't run as fast.
The irony for Ramsay is that this team has gome farther in the playoffs with perhaps less overall talent than the Buffalo team that helped get him fired after last season.
Walton has overcome irksome injuries and critics who insisted his zest for the game left him when he left ULCA. Johnny Davis' college class will graduate about the time the NBA playoffs end; Herm Gilliam still is remembered in some quarters as Rick Mount's feeder.
Twardzik, Muarice Lucas and Lionel Hollions are trying to escape the shadows of more famous players at their position; Larry Steele and Bob Gross must huslte and think to remain employed in the NBA.
"I thought we had it (altogether) at the end of the preseason," said Ramsay ofd his creation. "I became confident that, barring injury to key players, we had the potential to reach the playoffs" - he predicted 45 regular season victories and got 49 -"and, yes, even win the title.
"I knew so little about everyone when I got here and everyone came through. That's why it's easy for me to say this season has been the most rewarding for me."
And the team is receiving off-the-court rewards and lessons from Portland, with the interesting quirk being that the trainer, Ron Culp, is featured in one of the most prominent endorsements, that of an athletic equipment firm.
"Being from the East (born and raised in Pennsylvania, with a degree from Old Dominion)," said Twardzik, "I'd just finished a soda one day and started to throw the bottle away when a neighbor said, 'Hey, return that thing.' They recycle eveything out here.
"We out our papers in the trash once, like we always did, and er got to call from the trash people. Nothing nasty, just a reminder that there's a special paper collection out here.
"During the series in Philadelphia, we were visiting relatives and I'd finished a soda and wasn't quite sure what to do with the bottle. Then someone says, 'Hey, just throw the thing away,' and I said, 'Oh, of course.'
"I think the've seen the pitfalls of the east out here. And it seems, all of its rain."
As a 6-1 pivot man. Twardzik managed to play four years of high school basketball in the Hershey, Pa., area without attracting any interest from college scouts, let alone scholarship offers. He never heard of Old Dominion until the coach, Sonny Allen, introduced himself after a postseason tournament.
"I was about to turn him off," said Twardzik, "until he said he could get me out of class Friday and Monday if I'd visit his school. All of a sudden I was saying, 'wonderful place down there, I hear. I've been dying for a visit.'
"I fell in love with the place, of course, and the first day of practice down there you get your assignments about what to do on the fast break. Everything even has a number; it never changed from the first day." And Twardzikhas been running ever since.