Some people were shocked when the Blazers fans booed LaMarcus Aldridge in his return to the Rose Garden as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. How could this loyal fan base revile someone who gave them some of the best statistical numbers ever? How could we hold it against someone for wanting a ring? How could forget his monster games for us?
One word: Passion
LA has always seemed to lack it. The few times he actually showed some, he lit the basket up, but other than that he’s always displayed what people have called a “workman’s calm”. I call it a lack of passion. He was not passionate about playing for Portland and he was certainly not passionate about the city of Portland or its fans. Sometimes I felt like he was barely passionate about basketball at all. For what it’s worth, the disconnect kind of went both ways. Whoever’s idea it was to celebrate LA’s early years shots with the refrain from the “I love LA” song needs to be flogged. The L-Train nickname was barely a step up and has generally been derided.
When we traded for him on draft day, I didn’t completely buy into the hype. After all, his signature shot is technically one of the worst percentage-wise and very boring, so it was hard to get excited about that. However, after the Jail Blazers, I was thrilled to have a player that didn’t need constant off the court defense, so LaMarcus being unassuming wasn’t a big deal. After all, we had BRoy and Greg Odin to rely on to be presences on the court. Over the years I started to appreciate his pure numbers, no matter how he got them. He became a rebounding machine and actually starting driving to the hoop sometimes. He started to look like an awesome 2nd or 3rd option, even though I hated the slow methodical isolation sets. SNORE.
Fate and/or an injury curse then made the Blazers LA’s show, whether he liked it or not. Luckily for him (Or at least that’s how he could have seen it), Damian Lillard came in like a bolt of lightning and Wes became a premier shooting guard to keep the team relevant. Maybe the jealousy was not real. I can only go by the many rumors that reported his discontent with Dame getting more attention than him, but you know what? How many times have you heard LA talk outside of the after game interview? Me: twice. Once in a prerecorded message to the crowd and one live address. How many times have you heard Dame? Me: Don’t know. A lot. Frankly, when asked to be the face of the franchise, LA could barely mutter a ‘go blazers’, but every blazer fan remembers Dame screaming “RIP CITY!” into the mic.
Then it comes down to the city itself. The most telling part of LA’s departure for me was this line “I want to be closer to my kids.” As a Blazer fan and father myself, my only thought was “WHY THE HELL AREN’T YOUR KIDS IN PORTLAND ALREADY?!?” Nothing will redeem him for that in my eyes. With that comment alone, he cemented to me that he was never committed to Portland. He could have been honest about things. Instead of “I will be the best Blazer that ever lived”, it could have been an honest conversation. No one chided Clyde for leaving for a ring. In fact, we wanted so badly for him to get one that it didn’t even matter if it was for another team. Instead we got more soppy milk toast rhetoric from Mr. Milk Toast – which will be his new nickname from now on.
Now I know someone is going to mention delaying his surgery. Let’s be real: If you want a ring and you’re on a team that has the potential to make it, and your injury is not effecting your game, then delaying the surgery would be the logical decision. Not one based on passion.
Then you have Wessy Wes. Ironman. Undrafted. Underrated. Undeterred.
Wes resonates with the plight of the perennial underdog Blazers like no other has in recent memory. Small school? Pssh. He wasn’t even drafted. Chip on his shoulder? Check. He always brought his best no matter what and he was thrilled to be a Blazer. Even though it made little sense to resign him after Mr. Milk Toast dangled us along and dropped us, he was insulted (and I’m with him on this) that the organization didn’t even talk to him about re-signing. What did he do about it? Wrote this heartfelt letter to us, the fans. If Wes had a little more to offer on the stat sheet to bring him to all-star level, I think he could have become Mr. Blazer. We love him.
Ultimately, Wes was passionate about us, the fans, and we felt the same. Mr. Milk Toast was just an employee. Content to come to work, do his job, and go home. To Texas. That didn’t go unnoticed in Rip City.