On Monday, Mikey, of the J variety, sent me this, with the comment "How can you not love this guy?" I thank Mike for thinking of me and for sending this along. But I would have seen or heard it anyway, because it has been all over Portland media.
Originally, because of my ties to Texas athletics (the fact that I was mentoring in study hall the same time that the men's basketball team served study hall), I was sort of sorry that the Blazers didn't get Kevin Durant. I thought it would be especially cool to see two former UT players (Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge) in Portland, since I'm always looking for ways to feel like my two most recent worlds are colliding. I was, and I'm ashamed to say it now, disappointed to see the Blazers draft Greg Oden instead--even more so when the news came that Oden would not play his first season due to knee surgery.
No offence or disrespect to Kevin Durant. But, boy, was I wrong.
And I say the following with absolute sincerity: I have never, ever cared as much about any professional athlete as I care about Greg Oden. And I am including that strange crush I had on Andre Aggassi in 1991 that caused me to actually put up a poster of him in my bedroom (a dubious honor that he shares only with Johnny Depp--circa 21 Jump Street, Elvis, and the Beatles). Greg Oden is a cool freaking guy. He sings 'N Sync in front of hundreds of kids, badly. He talks to Barack Obama on the telephone and then goes on RIB to talk about the experience. He writes a blog, which is charming and silly as hell (if you only read one recent entry, read the one about him going to see Kanye West and Rihanna). And while you are looking at this material, consider this: THIS may be (is, in fact, likely to be) the next monster superstar of the NBA. He is a goofy, down-to-earth, self-conscious kid. And Portland is already in love with him, before we've seen him play a single NBA game, in spite of the fact that we already have a team full of great young guys who we AlSO love. Hell, I saw the guy riding in a truck during the Jr. Rose Festival Parade in June and had to hold myself back from running onto Sandy Boulevard to give him a big ol' hug. And you people know how I feel about hugs.
Those of you who are not from Portland may not understand how meaningful this team, and this particular player, are to this city. The Blazers are all that we've got--no other professional sports teams. Our state universities are represented by duck and beaver mascots. With the exception of some great runners (moment of silence for Pre) and a surprising recent run by the OSU Baseball team, we sort of know that we can't really compete--or at least can't often compete--in the realm of sports. We are the city equivalent of the kid who always gets picked last in P.E. So this is an exciting year for us. It is the chance (or the beginning of the chance) for Portland to play--hell--to compete--with the big dogs. And, because we believe in the character of this player, and the players of this team generally, we can do it without feeling a loss of integrity.
And that is why Portland loves Greg Oden.