Blazing a new trail

On Oct. 28, the Portland Trail Blazers opened their 2008-2009 NBA campaign in Los Angeles to play the Lakers. What is the significance of this? This is the season opener of a team that angry and dejected Sonics fans need to start paying attention to. Yes, that's right, I am proposing that Sonics fans adopt the rival Blazers as the new team of choice in the Pacific Northwest and the reasons go beyond geographical convenience.

Before we delve into that however, a point must be made. Sonics fans are Sonics fans and always will be. Despite the team being ripped away from us in unceremonious fashion, a true fan's loyalty must remain. Nothing will replace 1979, when the Sonics beat the Washington Bullets to capture the championship. Nothing will replace 1996, when the Sonics took the juggernaut Chicago Bulls to six games in the championship series. Nothing will replace Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Jack Sikma, Lenny Wilkens and George Karl. It's not time to go out and purchase Blazers gear and take road trips down to Portland for games. What we can do though, is support a team with many ties to our beloved Sonics and the city of Seattle.

Paul Allen owns the Blazers, a man who was and still is a very important figure in Seattle sports. In 1997, when former Seattle Seahawks owner Ken Behring threatened to move the team to Los Angeles, Allen purchased the team. Allen was instrumental in the building of Qwest Field, which to this day is still one of the most beautiful and fan-friendly stadiums in the NFL. Allen's wallet and commitment to winning have allowed the Seahawks not only to sign free agents including Julian Peterson and Patrick Kerney, but also to retain our own players including Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones and Shaun Alexander ... wait ... scratch that last one. Allen has been a major part of the Seahawks being a yearly contender over the past five years.

The Blazers coach is Nate McMillan. McMillan was drafted by the Sonics in 1986 and spent 19 years within the organization, both as a player and coach. He was such an important and respected member of the organization that his jersey was retired. He was the head coach of the Sonics during their last playoff year in 2005 when they won the Northwest division and made it to the Western Conference semi-finals. Since becoming the head coach of the Blazers after the 2005 season, he has taken a team riddled with salary issues and off the court drama and molded them into one of the more promising young teams in the league.

Brandon Roy played for the Washington Huskies for four years under coach Lorenzo Romar. In his senior year, Roy led the Huskies to their second consecutive Sweet-16 appearance and won Pac-10 Player of the Year honors. He was taken sixth overall in the NBA draft in 2006 by the Minnesota Timberwolves but was traded to the Blazers shortly after. In his short career with the Blazers, Roy has won NBA Rookie of the Year and has one All-Star game to his credit. He is the best player and emotional leader of a young Blazers team.

After an impressive career at Seattle Prep High School, Martell Webster signed on to become a Washington Husky but instead opted for the NBA draft in 2005. After being selected sixth overall by the Blazers, Webster has become an important player off the bench, averaging almost 11 points a game in 2007-2008.

As you can see, there's a lot to like here for a Sonics fan and that's without mentioning the potential of Greg Oden or LaMarcus Aldridge. Our only true rival during the existence of the Sonics may become a friend in the end. The Blazers are poised for a playoff run in a wide-open Western Conference and still could be playing deep into the playoffs.

If the city of Seattle somehow does manage to secure another team however, the Blazers once again will be our rivals. The I-90 rivalry is one of the lesser-known rivalries within the NBA, but still has meaning in the Northwest. In these dark times, maybe the Blazers can carry us through, give us something to root for and remind us how compelling a sport that basketball can be. It's either that or root for the Utah Jazz .... Never mind, don't root for the Utah Jazz.

John Dorgan is a freelance writer from Sequim. He can be reached via e-mail at

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