Healing process yet to begin with Blazer fans

Updated: March 5, 2004, 4:38 AM ET
By Bill Walton | Special to ESPN.com

It's going to take time for the Trail Blazers to regain the full support of Portland fans again.

The fans lost their trust and confidence in the Blazers to put a quality product on the court after the franchise went from legendary community figures like Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Buck Williams, Jerome Kersey and Brian Grant to Shawn Kemp, Isaiah Rider, Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells. The basketball fans -- the entire community in Oregon -- is a very smart group of folks. They know there have been serious errors of judgment as to who became a Blazer. Now they want to see how these new players are going to respond.

I have no doubts that Theo Ratliff and Shareef Abdur-Rahim are going to be outstanding Trail Blazers and, hopefully, they will be in Portland for a very long time. But that whole level of connection between the fans and the team has to be rebuilt, and that doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen in a flick of a switch or the connection of a synapse between two nerve endings. We're talking about some major damage that will only be repaired by a quality squad coming out and embodying the true Oregon spirit, which is the teamwork, human values and personal characteristics that people can identify with in their lives.

The Blazers' roster is not complete. I think that new Blazers general manager John Nash is going to continue to work to improve this team in terms of its basketball capabilities and of the quality of the people involved with the club. However, this ongoing saga is just getting started. Sadly, it took a wrong turn too many years ago and the seeds of disaster were allowed to germinate.

The fans will come back when the Blazers start playing a consistent level of enthusiastic ball that the fans can identify with -- when fans can look and say, "Yes, that's what Blazer basketball is all about." The team is headed in the right direction. The major diversion has already taken place with the trade of Wallace and the acquisition of Ratliff and Abdur-Rahim. But as the team steers a new course, the fans will be slow to return.

There's no obligation on the fan's part to back the team -- not at all. The obligation and responsibility lies with the team and with the players. This is about choice. This is about the ability to build a franchise and create a product that people want to be a part of. That took place on a spectacular level for decades in Oregon. And then in the last few years, the fans have been let down and they have voiced their dissatisfaction. Changes were made and now you have to start over.

The difficult economy in Oregon has been a factor in keeping fans away from the Rose Garden (the Pacific Northwest has been brutalized economically the last three years), but it still comes down to public relations and selling a quality product. People in the state of Oregon love their basketball. They love their Blazers. They've just been wondering what happened to their team.

Bill Walton, who is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, is an NBA analyst for ESPN. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

ESPN.com NBA Insider and Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton will again serve as a game analyst for ESPN's NBA telecasts. He joined ESPN and ABC Sports' in their inaugural season of NBA coverage in 2002.

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