No disrespect to the NBA stories last season. It ended in 2013 with a repeat championship for the Miami Heat and LeBron James. But that was expected from the beginning of the season. At the beginning of this season the same was expected. But America loves underdogs and redemption. So the best story of 2013 is not how last season ended but how this season begins. The calendar year is likely to end with the most unlikely of teams – the Portland Trailblazers – with the best record in professional basketball.
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Not so long ago, the Portland Trailblazers had players with so many reputed high crimes and misdemeanors they were nicknamed the Jailblazers. The team has not won big in more than a quarter century or had big time heroes since they won their only championship with Maurice Lucas and Bill Walton.
Now they are the biggest feel good story of the NBA season. With the overtime no-gift win over the Los Angeles Clippers Christmas night, the Trailblazers are now 24-5, the best in the NBA. The Trailblazers are 7-1 in games decided by 5 points of less. That too is the best in the NBA.
And to fandom it feels good to see them blazing the trail in the league with relative no-name non-superstars. Unless you already follow the NBA closely, you cannot name their big three – LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and since I now have to pick a third, perhaps Nicolas Batum. This team is headed by a low-profile head coach, Terry Stotts. The team is run by a new management team, headed by an even lower profile General Manager, Neil Olshey.
As for turnarounds on the court, the current 24 wins leaves them 4
wins short of the total wins last year. The low-profilers are doing something right.
Now ESPN has noticed. I’m not talking about a 30-second story on one of their 10,000 subsidiary B-run stations or its website. I am referencing a feature story on the flagship SportsCenter the day after Christmas. The story was designed to introduce them to sports America.
The long-suffering Portland fans need no such introduction. They have their reward, which must feel sweeter than spoiled-by-winning teams. Even with one of the worst teams in the league, winning only 28 games last season, they had the second-highest attendance in the NBA, averaging 20,496 fans per game.
And there is a reward for those who take the risk of owning an entity and paying the help. Forbes has valued the franchise as a middle of the pack club, 15th in the NBA, with a value of $457 million as of January 2013. I think you would like to have been a shareholder then and could cash out at year end. Don’t worry about the financial health of its owner, Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. He bought the club for $70 million in 1988. That’s easy math.
Of course, it’s too early to forecast an NBA championship or even playoff wins against the class of the Western Conference. Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers are favored to have their days in the end. But let’s unwrap our gifts when we receive them. The last month of 2013 has a theme we have all felt or will feel at some time in our lives – being an underdog and the hope for redemption. I feel you Blazers.