Jeff Alworth

CheeksanthemFor most professional sports teams, goodwill is earned with each win.  Stadiums are full when playoffs are anticipated, empty when the team rebuilds.  But there are a few special teams whose fans offer a deeper kind of goodwill, who see the team as a reflection of the city, wins and losses be damned: the Packers, the Cubs, the Red Sox (sorta).  It's the kind of goodwill that any franchise would kill to manufacture, but mostly it's not in their hands--the fans extend that goodwill of their own choice.  They adopt a team or they don't.

But a team can kill that goodwill--and thanks to the example of the Portland Trailblazers, we've seen how.  When the team fired Mo Cheeks yesterday, they rid themselves of the one remaining good guy in the organization.  The first doomed move the Blazers took was trading Clyde Drexler in the '94-'95 season.  It anticipated a decade of management in which short-term lucre and vanity was prized above long-term stability and loyalty. 

Everyone who has lived in Portland for 15 years or more can recall what the Blazers once meant to the city.  I recall the run they made at the end of the 88-89 season, when Terry Porter emerged as the leader of an explosive, never-say-die offense.  For the next several years, Blazer games were events in my life.  My friends and I enjoyed not the wins so much as the personalities and the effort.  No one could identify a single favorite player--Clyde, Jerome, Terry, Buck--it was almost sacrilege: what made them special was that they were a team.

Apparently Blazers management is initiating yet another house-cleaning (which happens more frequently than meetings of the Oregon legislature), and canning Cheeks was the first move.  It seems as  short-sighted as anything the team has done in recent memory, but what else is new?  No doubt a new ad campaign is already under way to sell whatever decisions ultimately get made.  Decisions will be promoted as grand new moves toward rebuilding a once great fanchise (read this self-serving piffle announcing the Cheeks decision, for instance).

But the goodwill is gone.  The Blazers are no longer "our" team--they're just another crass marketing tool.  Maybe they'll trade Damon or Abdur-Rahim and try to get some young talent in.  Maybe they'll stick with the hometown kid, instead.  Maybe they'll bring in a new $5 million coach.  Will anyone be left to notice?

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