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Long Live Rip City: Appreciating The Best Fans In Basketball

After Monday night's crucial win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Andrew Sharp says that the secret to Portland's success isn't the players, the coaches, or the management. It's those crazed Blazers fans that just never give up on their team.

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Long Live Rip City: Appreciating The Best Fans In Basketball

In the NBA and elsewhere, it's usually a waste of time trying to decide which fans are really "the best." For instance, Utah fans probably produce the most hostile atmosphere for visiting teams, Golden State has an army of diehards that've hung on for decades despite perpetual losing, and the Knicks fanbase loves the game of basketball more than any group in the league.

With so many great fans, most of whom are completely different, it's almost impossible to quantify what makes one group superior the others. But here's one attempt:

50-31.

That's the Portland Trail Blazers' record this year. After countless injuries to big men, swingmen, and everyone in between, the Blazers are headed to playoffs as either the sixth or seventh seeded team in the Western Conference, and more than anything else, it's a testament to the fans in Portland.

No question, Nate McMillan's done a phenomenal job holding that team together, and just the same, Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge have been key mainstays while the rest of the roster crumbled into a heap. But at the end of the day, the Blazers had about ten different excuses to quit on this season, and they didn't.

In the NBA, that's more rare than you'd think. Take it from a Washington Wizards fan. The Wizards got off to a 5-10 start this year, and almost immediately, interest in the team waned. Just another mediocre season, fans thought. And from there, obviously, the negativity snowballed, Gilbert Arenas brought guns to the locker room, they traded away their superstars, and suddenly, the Wizards are one of the worst teams in the league. That's what can happen when a team faces adversity. In fact, I'm pretty sure this has happened with the New York Knicks for ten seasons in a row. 

But that's not what happened in Portland, even after a string of too-cruel-to-be-true tragedies struck the Blazers family. First, beloved owner Paul Allen was diagnosed with cancer. Then Greg Oden suffered yet another season-ending injury, and fair or not, everyone expected the Blazers to crumble. When Joel Pryzbilla suffered a knee injury, and then re-injured it—in the shower—and ended his season, again, we all expected the team to write off the season as a lost cause. Who could blame them? A case of terrible karma crippling a young team. Then there was PG Andre Miller, one of the lone veterans on the Blazers, fighting with Nate McMillan, prompting everyone throughout the league to call that signing a mistake. Or GM Kevin Pritchard, suddenly fighting for his job and throwing the future of the team in doubt. Or Brandon Roy coming up injured, just days before the playoffs begin. You name the catastrophe, and it's happened in Portland this season.

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And each time, the Blazers had a perfect excuse to pack it in and feel sorry for themselves, but they kept fighting. And it all starts with the fans. Some background...

In the city of Portland, the Trail Blazers are king. The city has no other professional teams, so the world of sports revolves around the Blazers. There's a long history with that franchise, dating back to the Bill Walton teams and the 1977 NBA title. Literally for decades, the people of Portland have worshipped the Trail Blazers, ignoring the heartbreak of choosing Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan, the disappointment of those early-90s teams, and the antics of the Jail Blazers era. No matter the levels of heartbreak, the fans never lost faith.

Blazers fans are like the spouse that you always wanted. Supportive to the bitter end, and always looking on the bright side, ignoring the failures, and focusing on the positives. A lot of times, this sort of one-sided relationship, unrequited with championship teams, makes other basketball fans pity them. But here's why they don't deserve our sympathy: Because their fans love the team so much, the Trail Blazers are more successful. This year's just another example.

Even during a season when the Blazers have had the most snakebitten franchise this side of the Clippers, the folks in Rip City have never gotten bogged down with negativity. With all their sports media focused on the team, it would have been really easy for all of them to lose sight of the bright spots on that roster, and focus on who's NOT playing, and what their team CAN'T do. But instead, they kept showing up in droves, kept going nuts, and never lost hope. If the Portland fans wouldn't quit, how could the team?

So Monday night, with Brandon Roy sitting out one of the biggest games of the season, at home against the Thunder with playoff positioning on the line, we shouldn't be surprised that the Blazers responded. This is just what they do. The fans didn't lose hope, players like Marcus Camby and Andre Miller stepped up to fill the void created by Roy's absence, the Blazers buckled down on Kevin Durant in the second half, and they gutted out a win.

And watching from afar, it's hard not to be jealous.

There's something special going on out there, even if the fans don't have a championship team to cheer for. What they have instead, is a longstanding tradition of making the best of what cards they're dealt, and loving the crap out of their team. Even if they don't get rewarded with a championship this year, or ever, they're still there to help get the most out of the team they've got. Isn't that what sports is all about? It's so much more rewarding to cheer for a team that you really love than be a Knicks fan this year, constantly focused on players you don't have.

It's an attitude that permeates the entire organization in Portland, and it shows. Monday night was just another example. And even if Brandon Roy misses the playoffs and the Blazers get swept in the first round, you get the feeling that the Blazers fans will be okay with it. They don't quit on their team.

And if they won't quit, neither will the Blazers. Whatever happens to Roy and the Blazers this postseason, they'll be back. Next year, the year after that, and as long as the fans in Portland keep infusing that team with an energy that's unlike anything you'll find anywhere else in the league. It's tough to quantify what makes a fanbase "best," but by any measure, that makes the Portland fans are pretty damn awesome.

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