Writers vs. Writers: Blazers / Wolves
Writers vs. Writers is a series in which two writers who are sports fans each review a sporting event when the teams they root for compete against each other. In this inaugural edition, poet and Portland Trailblazers fan Mike Young battles against poet and Minnesota Timberwolves fan Hanif Abdurraqib.
March 7, 2015
Portland Trailblazers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Target Center, Minneapolis, MI
Final Score: Timberwolves 121, Trailblazers 113
Hanif Abdurraqib, Minnesota Timberwolves:
Quarter One, On Hell:
When the world ends, sometime in the next few weeks or so, the four horsemen will ride in and snatch us from the arms of our lovers. Children will ascend from their beds into the eager and waiting arms of heaven while I watch, being dragged by the collar to the depths of an unthinkable hell. As I imagine it, my personal hell won’t bother with flames, or demons, or any of the other things we’ve seen in metal videos from the late 80’s. The hell where I will reside forever consists of two couches. One for me, and one for a guy in a too-small Timberwolves jersey, who will spend every hour of every day repeating the words “Sure, he can’t shoot…but at least Ricky Rubio can pass, right?” while we watch an endless loop of Rubio playing quarters exactly like this one: darting between defenders and dropping off passes at the perfect moment on one possession, coming down the court on the next possession and launching an ill-advised 3 point shot that barely touches the rim.
That aside, I do love Portland. I love the way the town supports the Blazers, and even though I’m indifferent to most of the roster (except Aldridge. Always root for the Texas guys.), I like to see them do well. Andrew Wiggins is off to his usual quick start that tapers off in the 2nd quarter, Kevin Martin is doing that “hit just enough shots to make up for the fact that you play LITERALLY no defense” thing that I did all through high school, and by the end of it all, despite the fact that Ricky Rubio took seven shots this quarter and only made two, the Timberwolves are in it. Which means I have yet to throw my hat across the room.
Score: POR 30, MIN 29
Quarter Two, The Taco Bell Hour:
I wept when Zach LaVine won the dunk contest. I held my wife and our dog close. I called everyone I had ever loved and told them that I still loved them and that I always would. Within two minutes of his entering the game tonight, Zach LaVine has traveled, fumbled a rebound, missed a wide open layup, and given up a jumper to the corpse of Arron Afflalo, who I forgot was even in the league. Even with the Timberwolves in the midst of a 12-4 run, I can’t help but wondering what they could have gotten if they would have attempted to trade Zach LaVine in between the second and third rounds of the dunk contest.
Watching the Timberwolves bench gives me the same feeling I get when I’m out at like 3 a.m. and Taco Bell is my only option. I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting, I can’t identify too much in front of me, and there’s a lot of anxious exhaling and whispered prayers. Gary Neal is here, though I notice the trade from Charlotte hasn’t helped his defense as Damian Lillard (you know, one of the ELITE THREE POINTERS IN THE LEAUGE) hangs out wide open near the three point line, looks around, almost in shock, and nails a three. Trailblazers are on a 9-0 run with a 9 point lead. Announcer tells us that this is the 51st time the Timberwolves are facing a double digit deficit this season. This is their 61st game of the year. I do what I normally do in this situation. Check Kevin Love’s stats on the night, laugh if he’s playing poorly, look out the window longingly if he’s playing well, and then go to mock NBA draft websites, close my eyes, and imagine the future.
The hat is now tilting dangerously off of my head, begging to be removed, if not thrown.
Score: POR 55, MIN 50
Quarter Three, Beginning With A Kevin Garnett Poem, Ending With Andrew Wiggins Praise:
I once loved Kevin Garnett so / much I wore his jersey to school for / a week when I was in eighth grade / and fought Adam on the bus to school when / he made fun of me for it / so you must imagine how much it hurts / watching him miss all of these mid-range jump shots / as he plays out / his fading career / the shell of a shell of / a man / that I once loved / look / it’s our hero / limping to the bench again / the weight a desperate city / fastened to his shoulders / and hugging his back / growing down towards the rattling tombs of his knees / like a wall plant / spreading out and losing its / grace as it falls / maybe I should call Adam and tell him / I’m sorry for hitting him / I’d say / I’m sorry I resorted to violence back then dude / I thought KG would never play for the Celtics / I’m sure you understand / we’ve all wasted blood for reasons we’re ashamed of you know / Forgive me for calling so late / it’s just that KG is trying to skip a rock / but he is missing the ocean / the rim is the ocean, Adam / the ball is the rock / in NBA years, KG is as old as the ocean / maybe when KG retires at the end of this year / we can hang out and make true amends / and then Adam would say / I heard the Timberwolves are going to offer him a two year extension / And I will curse his loved ones / before hanging up.
There are moments where Andrew Wiggins looks truly great. Sure, he’s not an elite shooter, and he’s still mostly an athlete, figuring out his place. But watching him go on a tear where he scores 3 buckets in a row makes me feel like I’m watching a guy who can take the Wolves to the Western Conference finals someday. As I think this, Nikola Pekovic lumbers his way to missing another point-blank layup, causing the announcer to laugh. But, still! Over the horizon! A late lead!
Hat status: firmly in place, pointing forward.
Score: POR 79, MIN 81
Quarter Four, Anything Other Than Death:
In April of 1992, as the first day of riots in Los Angeles spilled into a hot and angry night, I remember my parents turning on an NBA playoff game. The Lakers played the Blazers in the heart of L.A., in the Great Western Forum, while everything around them burned. The Lakers weren’t great that season. Magic Johnson had suddenly retired, and they limped into the playoffs as an eight seed, expecting to get run over by the then-powerful Portland Trailblazers. True enough, they lost the series, 3-1. But that night, they took a far superior Portland team to overtime, and won on a late basket. There was a celebration around the TV in my house, not because any of us were Lakers fans. But perhaps because in an attempt to look for an escape from the racism, violence and burning, we got to watch a group of people who were destined for failure have a bit of a triumph before the world closed itself in on them again.
None of the sports teams I like are good. The Timberwolves might be the worst of them all, if we’re talking lack of talent and lack of hope for the immediate future. I sat up awake in bed last night reading the news of another unarmed black man killed by police (Tony Robinson in Madison, WI) and I’ve spent another day anxious and angry. In times like these (by which I mean “my entire lived experience”), I’ve always found it therapeutic to throw my stock into something trivial. Something that I can approach with joy, anger, sorry, excitement. For a few hours at a time, I can be driven to madness by anything other than death. And in the case of sports, I can walk away from it when it’s all over, and not carry the pain of loss with me for too long.
I needed the Trailblazers to lose tonight like my family needed them to lose in April of 1992. So when Ricky Rubio hits a late contested three pointer to seal the game (perhaps the truest irony of the evening, given my thoughts on hell), Wiggins and Martin nail some late free throws, and the Timberwolves get a win over a FAR superior opponent, it almost doesn’t feel like they’ve only won 14 games this year. It alllllllmost doesn’t feel like what I know to be true. That on every other screen, the world is closing in on us once again.
Final Score: POR 113, MIN 121
Mike Young, Portland Trailblazers:
I HAVE THE SAME COASTER
Hours before the Portland Trailblazers play the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday March 7th, 2015—a day before the sun lurches ahead one hour, a week after I coughed up an entire Eastern coast of ice, a world skunkily unmatched to face the single most important game in the history of balled baskets and/or basketed balls, Jeff and I ask for plantains. They’re out. “Basketball?” Jeff says. “What do you know about basketball?”
“I have a lot of saying yes I do,” I say. “It’s something I’m working out.”
“Drew, Jack, Christie, Derek, Bryan, uh—me, hello,” Jeff says. “They are all bigger Blazers fans than you.”
“Yeah, the Blazers were like fourth on my list. The first thing I said I’d write about is how much I hate Nadal. I’d write about a new generation of NASCAR drivers growing up with video game masculinity. I’d write about the 2001 Daytona 500, the most Shakesperean event in the history of American sports. I’d write about the Orioles mascot. Like the idea of a quote-unquote ‘happy bird.’ When I was a kid I used to think the Western border of Montana looked like the outline of a face, and that was Joe Montana. I’d write about that.”
“Shakespearean,” Jeff says, disgusted.
Let history do the cooking. That’s what I say. It’s something I believe strongly enough to put it two sentences before this one. For example, you don’t need me to tell you where you were during the most important basketball game. You know. Ah yes, you say. March 7th, 2015 at 8PM ET, as tipoff occurred in the Target Center in Minneapolis, MN, and the Blazers (crippled by the loss of recently injured Wes Matthews, who is sort of the cousin who shows you how to repair your motorcycle and whose collar is reported to be cornflower blue [a color little-known Portland romance novelist Chuck Showing-Results-for-Chuck-Palahniuk-Search-Instead-for-Chuck-Palinuk smugly inserts into all of his novels, an Easter egg, if you can imagine an egg that color, close your eyes and see it, an envisioning it’s totally possible somebody once asked you to do in the book they wrote about the color blue, the one Jenelle said didn’t really have, when you got right down to it, enough blue, blue being—Jenelle said—really another word for the idea of depth, because by the time languages get around to hiring blue they’ve already hired pretty much all the other colors, like white and red, the colors of the Portland Trailblazers, not to mention, hauntingly, kind of the color of actual blazed trails] and who waves off your offer to ride the motorcycle he, Wes Matthews, has just repaired, choosing instead to squint toward the distant crags, the coastal fog, and pick up your entire motorcycle, testing its weight, then shooting it into a giant basket propped up somewhere in the Oregon sky that only he can see, thoughtfully whispering “And one” as your motorcycle crashes to the ground, requiring further repairs) lost to the T-Wolves 121-113. Where was I? Easy.
I was working on a book layout for Jordan Stempleman’s new collection of poems, Wallop.
“Target Center,” I thought. “Graywolf Books. Why am I thinking of this? Grant money. Tar-jay. Grandmothers with British accents.” Something was being forgotten. It was my fault. This much I knew. This wasn’t new. I used the Gap Tool in Adobe InDesign. Guilt crinkled the quality of the room’s light. My lamp looks like a piece of Pacific driftwood recovered in the bathroom of an authentic New Mexico saloon, which is the goal I’ve set for my own looks. In clear pursuit of this goal, I left the middle of a New England winter and moved to Portland. “Which Portland?” asked everyone in New England and no one else. The night in question, the night of the most important basketball game ever, I ate an almond. Again I used the Gap Tool. Windows open, the world smelled like roasted olives, an unnaturally early spring. On the other side of my living room wall, my crisp-bearded neighbor Eric played perhaps a guitar, or an expensive guitar, or a famous guitar, or changed his name to Erik. Then Hanif Abdurraqib sent an email to Danniel Schoonebeek and me: “Should I just attach what I wrote here? Or should I send it somewhere else…the game just ended and I need to clean up what I have, but I should be able to send it out within like 10-15 minutes.”
Instead of plantains, Jeff and I get yucca. It comes with banana ketchup. “I’m suspicious of this ketchup,” Jeff says.
“All I have to do is watch the game and write something about it,” I say. “I like watching basketball games. I went to one! I got a coaster.”
“Who’s on the coaster?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Wrong. It’s #88, Nicolas Batum, a French Olympian.”
“What the fuck, dude, I’ve never showed you my coaster.”
Jeff is glaring into the open bottle of banana ketchup. It’s you or me, his eyes seem to say. Dogs run off leash. Degendered lovers touch each other on the butt. For shoes, someone wears recycled gourmet cornbread. Sandy Blvd runs diagonally and frustrates people. Predominantly black neighborhoods are replaced by long lines for experimental ice cream. Magnolia blossoms all arrive at the same time, each blossom pushing up to offer its own opinion on the exact CMYK value of the March sky. New brunch places move into old bars. The owners of the new places say, “It’s not because the rent went up, I can show you my lease, that’s not why they moved, they just got tired of being a bar, I know everyone liked them but they just got tired of it, they put out a secret ad in the classifieds, shit, I can show you the lease.”
“You don’t have to ‘show me’ your coaster,” Jeff says. “I have the same coaster.”
The day after the most important basketball game in the history of basking in balls, I helped Alan with ideas for his new magazine. It’s going to have excerpts of athlete biographies and something by his sister’s father-in-law about falconry. When he was a kid, he used to read a magazine whose last fifteen pages just had pictures of basketball player shoes.
“Maybe that can be the layout,” I said. “Like a poet’s shoe on one side of the page, then you flip the page and it’s their poem.”
“Birds and shoes,” Alan said. “I mean, I don’t want it to seem—like maybe I should move before I start this magazine. Like it sounds a little too Portland, right?”
“Oh wait. Did you watch the Blazers game last night?”
He didn’t, and neither did Bryan, who I called from the bathroom a few hours later. He was spring cleaning, and I had just eaten a blood orange, so we were both chipper. “But I have a link where you can watch it,” he said.
“Yeah Danniel sent me one too,” I said. “I haven’t told him I didn’t watch it.”
“Why did he ask you to write about the Blazers? Doesn’t he know a bunch of other people in Portland? Like, you just moved here.”
“That’s what I told Jeff. He said make sure to put spirit fingers in. Like when the other team is taking a free throw and you make spirit fingers to distract them. He was really angry I didn’t know about that.”
“Hmm,” Bryan said. “I don’t think that’s a Portland thing. I don’t think that’s anyone’s thing.”
“Why are you a Blazers fan?”
“They’ve just always sort of been there for me. I can match times in my life to what was happening with the Blazers. Like I can be like, oh yeah, I was going out with her when we had Gerald Wallace.”
“Do you think Portland romance novelist Chuck Palahook is a Blazers fan?”
“Nevermind. What should I write about?”
“Don’t write about Greg Oden. Or losing Michael Jordan in the draft or anything like that. That stuff is like the cut-deep stuff. You should write about how everyone is a Blazers fan here, even if they’re not typically a sports fan. Like people take their parents to the game even if their parents are scientists. Wait, did you see the thing Michael Heald posted on his Facebook? He posted this article J.J. something wrote about the Blazers, but he posted this comment from it. He was like, I usually don’t read the comments, but this one nails it. Hang on. Here, I’ll read it to you:
I’m not sure Blazers fans have ever felt entitled to anything. All we ask for is effort and to embrace the odd community bond that Adande references. You might say that sets the bar too low. And that may be correct. But this place is a bounty of creativity and good will. The outcome is not as valued as the team itself.
“Cool,” I said. “Can I say you were going out with Rasheed Wallace?”
Bryan sighed. “Here, I’ll send you the link to the game and a picture of Raymond Felton eating a cupcake.”
It’s not like I haven’t watched a single Blazers game. Or been to a single Blazers game. A single game. A game I went to with my friends who are all from New England and are normally Blazers fan but that night were Celtics fans. And we almost got into a fight with a couple meatheads who stole Jack’s hat and called him gay. And the Blazers lost on a buzzer beater. And for most of the game the meatheads weren’t even there, but their cell phone was, and a very concerned lady kept asking us if we knew anyone who’d left their cell phone here, and we kept saying no, but try seeing if they have anyone in their phone named Mom or Lover or Ursula Le Guin. And it made me remember how I saw Inherent Vice the first week I moved to Portland, and I was waiting anxiously for a message from Emily about where we were meeting afterwards, and so I checked my phone, and someone in the seat next to me angrily slapped the phone out of my hand and said “When is that ever OK?” And so I’ve been living in Portland without a phone, which is hard, and mostly I get in touch with my friends by yodeling from bridges, converting old mills into speakeasies and hoping my friends apply for a server job, or kissing tiny messages into raindrops. At the Blazers/Celtics game, I ate a duck taco, because you can buy expensive tacos at the Moda Center, which used to be the Rose Garden, and later I drank beer in a basement with other Celtics fans, because all Celtics fans who live in Portland have basements where they make their own beer, and people talked about all the old Portland bars they missed, and I said, “I bet the new owners can show you the lease. I bet the rent didn’t even go up.”
So it’s not like I haven’t seen a single Blazers game.
Just not the most important one. Not the one they played March 7th, 2015 against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Here is a picture of Raymond Felton eating a cupcake. Bryan Coffelt sent me this. He baked the cupcake you can see Felton eating, and you can see Felton’s reaction as he’s talking to Coffelt about me writing this review of a game I didn’t watch. “Like does he know about Alridge?” Felton said.
“Nope,” Coffelt said.
“Man, he doesn’t know how LaMarcus Aldridge decided to postpone surgery on his thumb so he could keep leading the team—along with explosive point guard Damian Lillard—to our best shot at a championship since the days of Dr. Jack Ramsey, which would be a pretty special championship indeed for a team that’s only one of six in the NBA that doesn’t share a market with any other major sport or hockey?”
“All he wants to talk about is this romance novelist,” Coffelt said. “Chook something.”
“Yeah,” Coffelt said, glancing at his phone and deciding to ignore a text from his old lover Rasheed Wallace.
“I love Palsofcooks. He does this food blog about duck tacos and banana ketchup.”
“The man has a vision.”
Back in January, months before the most important game in the history of circles, I was at a party at Drew’s house. There was dancing and chili and weed and learning the names of new friends so I could tell my old friends alienating stories like, “Yeah, so I was hanging out with Graham, he’s my new friend, you don’t know him.” At some point in the night, Drew gave me a pair of shoes. “That’s just what we do here,” he said. They were blue, the deepest. He hadn’t even got them on a Nike discount because he wrote ad copy for Nike or anything. They were just his shoes. Now they were mine. He put his hand on my shoulder. “But what would you call them,” he said, “if there was no blue?”
I taught my new friends a game from the middle of New England winter. It’s called Tournament of Champions, and it’s basically about filling the attic up with candles and sitting around on blankets and writing interesting things on scraps of paper and putting all the scraps in a sock hat and drawing the scraps at random, two at a time, pitting the two against each other, voting on the better, among the group, some arguing, some passion, filling in a bracket with each winner until you grind to a final champ. In New England, some of the winners and runners up from different sessions included:
stars learning to laugh at themselves
the woods I have to get to in me
Grampy riding his bike into a hot tub
sixty private insights a minute
The first time you play, it’s common to be shy. To not want to write anything too crazy. So I wasn’t surprised that night at Drew’s house when someone wrote “Rip city,” and everyone loved it, yelling “RIP CITTTYYYYYYY!” in unison. A frat-ish yell, unabashed hoo-rah, in that room full of rare soul records and first edition poetry books. But I was a little surprised it kept winning. And every time, the same yell. Until finally, the finals. And surely it wouldn’t—but it did. It won the whole thing.
Here in March, full of blood oranges and banana ketchup and love for Portland’s global-warming enhanced early Spring, a new romance novel by Churk Pindeldyboz on my nightstand, I’m ashamed to tell you what I’m about to tell you, but here’s what I thought that night in January: “I can’t tell my old friends. I can’t tell them something as dumb as ‘rip city’ won their game.”
But listen to this. In 1971, the Blazers’ first season, a basketball player named Jim Barnett took a very long shot during a late game comeback against the Lakers, who were definitely not in their first season. It was a dumb shot. Back then, you didn’t even get three points for long shots. But it went in. Portland play-by-player announcer Bill Schonely, overcome by the emotion of what would turn out to be the second most important basket game in the ballstory of hisses, yelled out “Rip city!” In other words, his outburst was as joyful and spontaneous as a cornflower blue motorcycle arcing through the sky, landing in Wes Matthews’s sock hat and conceptually obliterating all the scraps of New England Tournament of Champions memories resting therein like so much Pacific driftwood found inexplicably in the desert.
On Christie’s birthday, Hilary gave her a t-shirt with Bill Schonely’s face on it. Surrounding his face were some of his other catchphrases, such as:
“Bingo Bango Bongo”
“Climb the golden ladder”
“Lickety brindle up the middle”
“You’ve got to make your free throws”
“Don’t talk about Sam Bowie”
“They’re out of plantains”
“Poet’s shoes on one side”
“Some of my poet friends in Portland work in advertising, and I worry about what this means for their poetry, and then I start thinking about James Dickey working for Coke, and James Dickey yodeling his friends’ names on his favorite Portland bridge”
“I have the same coaster”
In The Lathe of Heaven, a science fiction novel by Portland’s benevolent anarchist queen Ursula Le Guin, a man named George dreams things to life. It’s scary. George is sent to a crisp-bearded psychologist with “good intentions,” and this psychologist tries to use George’s power for good, which means evil. Jenelle gave me this book. She said to read it and walk around Northeast Portland.
You wake up one day and a long shot is worth three points. They’re sending you coupons for a hypothetical Trader Joes and hiking up repair costs on houses black families have lived in for generations because white people want to change their name to Erik. In a daze, you walk down MLK. Above you, treadmilll joggers chase something infinitely, in a room with windows for walls, a story above a gluten-free bakery named after one of the fairies from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. “Shakespeare,” you say out loud. You pass an improv theatre and an African market. Condos loom, the color and shape of respectable Soviet acid trips. Mike Young almost runs you over in a Car2Go, not paying attention, frantically trying to stop Google Maps from sending him onto I-5. Somehow you end up on a #6 going south. Romance novelist Chrrk Pillenduck sits up in the branches of a magnolia tree, swinging his legs, gobbling up all the popcorn white blossoms, doomed to a life of poverty and obscurity. Then you’re on the light rail. Sophie texts you as you go over the bridge, inquiring about the quality of the fog. Alan decides to start his magazine here in Portland, but carefully. Graham is sick in his room, with allergies, and Drew knocks on the door and offers him some essential oils to help, even though he only has one vial left. In Christie’s closet, a silkscreened Bill Schnoley quietly tests new catchphrases under his breath. Bryan Coffelt wipes cupcake batter off his forehead. Todd wonders if you are ever going to give him his drill back. You don’t know why you’re on the light rail when the Blazers stadium is on the east side of the river and all you need to take to get there is a #6, a clear error of geography on the part of the author. Emily stars in a PSA that plays before every showing of Inherent Vice, demonstrating the proper way to wait until the movie is over before answering a text from her. Jordan Stempleman and Ryan MacDonald tour the East Coast in celebration of their books, Wallop and The Observable Characteristics of Organisms respectively. Michael Heald is chased through the woods by annoying internet comments, branches scratching his face, hand in hand with the only internet comment he has ever loved. Hanif Abdurraqib includes a beautiful poem about Kevin Garnett in the Third Quarter part of his game review. You finally arrive at the Rose Garden—I mean the Moda Center.
It’s dark. There are no duck tacos. You’re high in the stands, alone, and the floor is barren.
“The Gap tool,” Jeff says, disgusted.
“Jeff?” you say. “Is that you?”
A spotlight flashes. Wes Matthews hobbles out into the middle of the floor. He’s wearing a pair of red track pants, the kind with snaps, and a white t-shirt dotted with plantains. “You’re late,” he says.
“Sorry,” you say. “I meant to watch the game, but—”
“We know,” Wes says. “The Gap tool.”
“Look, can I buy you brunch? I saw the letter you wrote to the fans. You’ve got heart. You get Portland.”
Wes sticks a finger in his chest. “I get Portland? I get Portland?”
Danniel Schoonebeek steps out of the shadows, dressed in a completely reasonable and not-mad-at-you sort of way. “We’re not mad at you,” he says. “I mean, OK, yeah, maybe it starts with mad. You could say that.”
You bite your lip. “Danniel, listen. Please. I know how to spell your name.”
He sighs. “Go Knicks,” he says grimly.
Suddenly the stands are bathed in red and white light. The floor starts to crack. Wes and Danniel grab onto each other and begin to chant “Climb the golden ladder.” Projections of Jeff’s face appear in every seat, body-less.
“Jeff!” you cry. “Help! I can show you my lease!”
But all the Jeff faces glare. “Imagine a blue egg,” they say. “Go ahead. I dare you. Didn’t think so.”
Lightning breaks the roof. A thousand quote-unquote ‘unhappy birds’ tear through the stadium, cawing. One flies right at you, and you duck. Below a seat several rows down, you spot your cell phone. Finally! You can call your new friends! They can rescue you! Or your old friends! Boat mom!
You make a break for your phone. The birds see where you’re headed and swarm, trying to get there before you. Sandy Blvd rumbles into the stadium, claiming another swath for its diagonal prayers. Wes Matthews screams in pain as a two location chain of artisanal cornbread shoe stores open on his ankles, dooming his chances of returning this season. The Blazers trade for Arron Afflalo to make up for the loss. The birds get your phone. They fly away. You’re alone in the world. Spring is early. Ricky Rubio hit a big 3-pointer with a minute left to help the Timberwolves snap a four-game skid with a 121-113 victory over the Trail Blazers on Saturday night.