|Wednesday, December 11
Updated: December 13, 1:54 PM ET
Fans won't forgive but ready to forget Blazers
By Joe Lago
You may have seen it on the Jumbotron of a pro arena near you. It's a classic clip from the movie "Network" of the late Peter Finch maniacally screaming his frustration to anyone who'll hear him. We conjure up this image because it describes the furor in Portland right now over their resident NBA'ers and their latest spate of crimes and misdemeanors.
Portlanders, like the disheveled Finch, are mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore.
It's about time.
"Total disgust," said Gary Jondahl, owner of Kingston Bar and Grill on Southwest Morrison Street in Portland, in summing up the fans' feelings toward the Blazers. "People are just turned off by them. I walked through here trying to give away four tickets the other night and nobody would take them."
After forgiving the Blazers so many times for their indiscretions, the fans have finally decided to live without pro hoops and forget the team. Even though they've embraced the franchise as family, the denizens are disowning the Blazers like a troubled relative in all kinds of ways.
Most noticeable is the downtown sign that bluntly says "Boycott Blazers." At McGillacuddy's Sports Bar and Grill, a place officially designated by the franchise as a place for fans to eat, drink and merrily watch its team, more people come by these days to root for Lakers losses than to see Blazers victories, according to bartender Jarod Struck.
But the display of outrage that really rose eyebrows around town was an innocent letter to the editor by Ron Tonkin, Portland's auto dealer king and one of the Blazers' most high-profile boosters. On Dec. 1, the Oregonian newspaper published Tonkin's five-sentence denouncement of the Blazers' behavior in which Tonkin called the team "a disgrace" and vowed not to renew his company's luxury suite at the Rose Garden.
Ironically, the final straw for Tonkin wasn't Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire getting caught with marijuana while driving back from a game in Seattle or Ruben Patterson's domestic violence charge that was later dropped but prompted a $100,000 fine from the team.
"I was tired of people asking, 'So, how are your Jail Blazers?' " Tonkin said.
"We've put up with it for a long time," Tonkin added. "There's only so much you can pour into a bottle before it starts spilling over the sides. That's what I wrote in my letter to the editor ... I had no idea that it was going to cause this kind of commotion."
Portlanders always seemed to give the Blazers the benefit of the doubt. Even when J.R. Rider was caught smoking pot out of a Coke can and labeled the Portland area as racist, the locals kissed and made up with the team.
The disdain for the Blazers has been building. But would there have been such an uproar over the Blazers' three arrests had they been leading the Pacific Division instead of languishing below .500?
"I'm not naïve. Winning does a lot and we all know that," Tonkin said. "But I think in this case I don't think it would've smoothed everything over. The public here has had a belly-full with what's going on with the Blazers. They've had had enough.
"The team needs an enema."
Flushing general manager Bob Whitsitt out of the Blazers' front office would bring instant relief, said Jondahl, who, after 12 years as a season-ticket holder, gave his seats back "four or five years ago."
"People are getting busted over things they shouldn't be getting busted for," Jondahl complained. "Bob Whitsitt brought those people here, so put most of the blame on him. And you've got to wonder about (owner) Paul Allen, too. He's the one who brought Bob Whitsitt here.
"Whitsitt tried the same thing in Seattle and it didn't work up there. … With the money he's spending, you'd think he can put together a good team. Plus Bob Whitsitt doesn't even live here. He lives in Seattle. And Seattle and Portland aren't exactly the best of friends."
Joe Lago, NBA editor for ESPN.com, writes Morning Shootaround every Wednesday and Friday.