Goodbyes are never easy.
Last week as teams across the NBA made deals leading up to the trade deadline, the Trail Blazers got in on the action with a move that netted them Norman Powell from the Toronto Raptors. Powell, a sixth-year shooting guard out of UCLA, won a championship with Toronto in 2019, and this year boasts a 49.9/44.6/84.7 shooting line while averaging 19.5 points per game – all career highs. It didn’t take long for Powell to make an impression on Rip City. In his first game with the team, he scored 22 points while knocking down 5 of 7 three-point attempts. Already endearing himself to Blazers fans, it’s almost enough to make you forget what Portland had to give up to get him.
As part of the deal that brought Powell to Portland, the Blazers sent Rodney Hood and Gary Trent Jr. to Toronto. Both fan favorites, Hood won over Rip City during the 2019 playoffs for his role in their Western Conference Semi-Finals win over Denver. It’s not hyperbole to say the Blazers don’t advance past that series without his 19-point performance in their Game 3, four-overtime victory, or his 25-points in their Game 6 win.
For Trent Jr., the fan-love was bubble born. The biggest surprise of the NBA restart in Orlando last season, Trent Jr. was a key piece in the Blazers longshot run to the play-in game with his relentless three-point shooting, tough defense, and patented snarl. For Portland, the sign of a true star is when you begin to hear fans state their willingness to get rid of franchise cornerstones to pave way for their favorites; and you needn’t scour the internet for long before coming across claims that it should have been CJ McCollum who got traded instead of Trent Jr.
Trail Blazers fans are a unique bunch.
The only show in town for the major four professional sports, the best way to characterize the way fans in Portland view their relationship with the Blazers roster is like a family. That’s probably not too uncommon. I’m sure fans in markets like Milwaukee or Oklahoma City feel similarly about their stars. What makes Blazers fans so unique, I believe, is the extent to which they fall massively in love with players who most outside of Portland would struggle to identify as active NBA players.
Rudy Fernandez walks past you, a normal person, on the street and maybe you think oh hey there’s a taller than average European-looking man. Off the top of my head, I can think of seven people from Portland who have dogs named after him. You see Shabazz Napier in the gym and wonder aloud whether that guy ever played in college. Rip_City_4_Life on Twitter comes prepared with 1,200 words on how “‘Bazz should have been the perfect sixth man if only our coaches would have known how to utilize him.”
Watching fan-favorites leave the Blazers, whether as trade pieces or free agents, has become commonplace. And while others across the league may not give some of these players so much as a passing glance, that doesn’t mean those in Portland forget. Narrowing the player-pool to the Stotts era to preserve my sanity, here are the top-five Trail Blazers fans still miss.
5) Robin Lopez
To know RoLo was to love RoLo. At least in Portland…
The scruffier and markedly less successful NBA twin, Robin Lopez was never more at home nor more beloved than during his time as a Trail Blazer. While he played just two seasons in Portland, the comic book-loving, mascot fighting seven-footer perfectly embodied the ‘Keep Portland Weird’ mantra of the city. Unlike others on this list, he is relatively well known due to his collegiate success and the fact that he has a twin brother who is also an NBA player; yet no one in the six other cities he’s played would speak of him as fondly as his Portland brethren. Which makes sense, because he’s not very good.
That doesn’t matter in Rip City.
Bonus points for constantly sounding like he’s trying to stave off an unwelcome French accent.
4) Thomas Robinson
Acquired by the Blazers via trade and sent away in kind, Thomas Robinson was a poster-child of playing in the wrong era of the NBA. He came in off the bench, played tough interior defense, rebounded, and simply refused to shoot the ball. We’re talking an average of 0.0 three-point attempts per game.
You almost have to respect it.
His intensity and hustle were what won the hearts of Blazers fans, never shying away from a meeting at the rim, like in the video below (side note: this is also an example of a Class C felony in certain localities).
Also responsible for fans’ love of all things Thomas Robinson: former Blazers’ color commentator and professional alcoholic Mike Rice, who learned early on that simply yelling “T-Rob!” could always bail him out on his less functional nights.
(Mike Rice being fired without ceremony remains one of the largest black eyes on the Trail Blazers franchise as well as the state of Oregon. And yes, I’m aware Oregon was originally designed as a White Ethnostate. I said one of the largest black eyes – relax).
3) Will Barton
Will the Thrill; and yes, every single player on this list has a nickname.
Afflalo was 29, a poor fit for the Blazers, and lasted just three more seasons in the league.
Barton was 24, super fucking cool, and is still averaging over 37% from three in Denver.
Other than getting to alternate between calling him Will the Thrill, Thrill Barton, or just short-handing to Thrill, Barton was a player Portland fans loved because of how well he played off of Damian Lillard. Corner threes and alley-oops were common, and he played with the type of energy off the bench that Portland has spent the past six seasons trying to draft or trade for.
He’s not an unknown player. Teams around the league likely know he’d make them better. Still, no one loves him like Portland.
Come home, Thrill!
2) Ed Davis
F.R.E.D – Friendly, reliable, Ed Davis.
Davis is another example of how players earn the love of fans in Portland by simply excelling in their role. At 6’9″, he was undersized as a center; yet he still hung with bigger guys, and while he was never a prolific scorer, he handled the pick-and-roll with Lillard as well as anyone I’ve seen.
He was a glue guy, a locker room favorite. He’s also a player who any fan of the Blazers will root for until the end of time.
Davis played three seasons with the Blazers before signing with Brooklyn. Portland never even reached out to him about a new deal. Just thinking out loud here, but if your goal as a franchise is to build around your star point guard, and that point guard is on record saying Davis is his favorite teammate of all time, maybe you at least make a call?
The more I write this the more I want to see Neil Olshey in front of a tribunal.
1) Wesley Matthews
Oh, Wes. What could have been.
Before tearing his Achilles in his final season in Portland, Wesley Matthews was Portland royalty. Think Meyers Leonard, but the complete opposite. Obviously, Damian Lillard has taken things to a different level; but the way Matthews made fans in the Moda Center erupt with his step-back threes in crunch time was not too far off from what Lillard is doing today.
He played tough defense and was a “Lebron stopper” (insert laughter). After he’d hit a three he’d reach behind his back and pretend he was unfurling a bow and arrow which is still the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. He was an enforcer and an attitude guy. No one messed with him. Fans in Portland couldn’t get enough.
It was clear when Portland drafted CJ McCollum the hope was that he’d become the star shooting guard he is today. If Matthews doesn’t get injured, does Olshey try to re-sign him and put him at small forward? We’ll never know. The injury sealed his fate.
He was the best. I miss him every day. Adam Silver allowing him to sign with the Lakers and not intervening sickens me to my core.