On the History and Future of My Second-Favorite NBA Team

Portland

Everyone knows I’m a Knicks fan, ride or die. Many of you know that I go nuts for everything NBA. Pretty sure I couldn’t host a weekly hour-long NBA talk show otherwise. What not many people know, however, is that I have another favorite team in the league. No, I’m not a front-runner rooting for the Cavs, Warriors, Thunder, or Spurs. My team is the Portland Trailblazers.

Portland

Going back to my first season of NBA obsession, 2010-11, I always saw something to like about the Blazers. Brandon Roy, before his knees buckled, was a polarizing player with incredible handles and range. Nicholas Batum emerged as a versatile wing. Gerald Wallace provided a mid-season injection of toughness in 2011 that continued into 2012. Marcus Camby was the defensive old-man glue. Wesley Matthews was 3-and-D’ing before it became a huge thing. Even the thought of watching Raymond Felton after he was traded there was enticing. And of course, the rock during it all, LaMarcus Aldridge, playing his way into All-Star fame as a fundamentalistic, mid-range shooting big that could pack a punch in the paint.

They may have lacked in considerable depth, but the Trailblazers’ lineup just made sense, basketball-wise. Each guy brought something different to the team. And Aldridge was really the go-to key cog that made everything work. He was the undisputed cornerstone of the team.

And then came Damian Lillard.

Portland

Out of any time of the NBA year, draft season is probably my least knowledgeable. 2012 was no different. Even better, I had won a contest through Foot Locker to attend SLAM Magazine’s NBA Draft Suite, where I would meet all these prospects about whom I hadn’t much a clue, outside the big names. And hailing out of DIII Weber State University, Damian Lillard was no big name. So, as I sat in the Draft Suite early on, waiting for the prospects to show, I read insights and watched highlight video after highlight video, trying to get a feel for what each player brought to the table.

Man, did I admire those videos of Lillard. What’s not to like about a dynamic, scoring point guard like that? And with him, it seemed like it wasn’t about putting on a show. Basketball was business, and he was about getting it done. The small-school background certainly helped. And meeting him was cool, but more than anything, it was those videos that cemented my Lillard fandom.

Portland

You couldn’t have picked a better team for him to go to than the Blazers, either. Coming off the Felton massacre, they desperately needed production at the point. And he sure as hell delivered. Summer League that year validated my fandom, as Lillard took co-MVP  honors. When Fantasy season rolled around, I took him fourth or fifth, and reaped the benefits. Over the course of the 2012-13 season, he showed himself to be more than a viable player for the Blazers, with toughness, a no-nonsense attitude, and the early signs of a clutch gene that enamored the nation a year later.

I was certainly happy when Lillard took home Rookie of the Year honors, but my fandom for him and the Blazers held no candle to my #knickstape repping during the 2012-13 campaign. At that point, the Blazers didn’t reach the postseason, while the Knicks were outperforming expectations under Mike Woodson. Regardless, a special liking for the Blazers kindled that season, between watching Lillard and Aldridge, and playing lots of NBA 2K13.

Portland

By far and away, the Blazers were my favorite team to use in that game. Especially with the core four of Lillard, Aldridge, Wes, and Batum. It wasn’t necessarily the kingpin of Aldridge’s game, but I was so good with the Blazers’ power forward in the post. Every time down, I’d either run through the defense with Lillard and figure out a play from there, or throw it to Aldridge in the post, and end in a post score or a pass out to the three-point line. I had one very memorable game against a friend where I tied the game with an Aldridge three, and then won in overtime with a Lillard buzzer-beating three. Then, in January 2013, I helped organize an NBA 2K13 tournament at Extra Butter in Rockville Centre. Not shy of the competition (all picking front-runner teams), I went with my gut and picked the Blazers. Sure enough, my calculated, far-from-rushed play won me the tournament, though me now would have given me then a stern talking-to about keeping the difficulty on Pro. I think, if anything, that victory as the Blazers served as my pledge of allegiance to the team.

Portland

From that point on, things have been on the up for the Blazers. On my show, I was hopeful that Portland would make a jump, but wary to put them in the playoff picture. Then, in the 2013-14 season, the Blazers shocked the NBA, going 54-28, becoming this incredible feel-good story, and even leading the West at points. Lillard’s dominance and clutch were really starting to show themselves, Aldridge was playing consistent All-Star basketball, and Terry Stotts’ system had the Blazers running in high-gear. It was incredible to see: a team marred by injury problems and bad luck for God knows how long finally coming to fruition. When Lillard was named an All-Star, I was even happier. And though they didn’t end up positioned as high as the overachieving Knicks the year before, I couldn’t have been more thrilled to see how much internal improvement the Blazers had.

I bet you’re wondering how I felt when Lillard sinked that three over Parsons to clinch the series win against the Rockets. I’m sure wondering what my live reaction would have been. In my biggest sports regret yet (and this’ll take the cake for a while), I slept through the last six minutes of that game. I woke up in the middle of the night and registered that the Blazers won the series when I looked at my phone, but when I heard how it went down, I was taken aback. Lillard was really really real. I wouldn’t be shocked if I had run from end to end in my dorm out of sheer excitement.

PortlandThe Blazers may have lost in the second round to the Spurs, but it was great to see a team like that beat the bitch-made Rockets. And hopes were now high for this group, so much so that Aldridge declared that he wanted to be “the greatest Blazer ever.” At that point, I was ready to see them go all the way. And with Lillard’s buzzer-beater against the Thunder on their opening night of the 2014-15 year, it was as if things kicked right back off from where they were. The Blazers went on to torch through the start of the season, with Wes Matthews especially emerging as a high-performing 3 & D wing. Iron Man was starting to get national recognition.

Though as the season dragged on, the Blazers ran into some awful luck. Just on the cusp of trading for Arron Afflalo, who would have served as a glorified sixth man, Matthews tore his ACL. Then, Afflalo got injured. They were already dealing with a slightly affected LaMarcus Aldridge, who was playing through a thumb injury. And sure enough, after having a 40-19 record previously, they went 11-12 to finish the season post-Matthews injury, much lower than Western Conference playoff standards. Nobody had the Blazers pegged to do some post-season damage, and sure enough, they were swiftly eliminated by the Grizzlies in the first round.

Portland

As the NBA Playoffs rolled on, I didn’t think much about what could happen to the Blazers. I knew Aldridge, Matthews, and Lopez were free agents, but it didn’t quite register how different the Blazers could end up looking after the offseason. That is, until reports came out that it was highly unlikely for Aldridge to return. Throughout all of the changes and commitments of the core (Batum trade to the Hornets, Matthews signing with the Mavs, Lopez and Afflalo signing with the Knicks, and Aldridge to the Spurs), I could only help but feel pity for the Blazers franchise. It seemed like they had something special going on, and once again, a major injury killed those chances. Plus, it’s likely that this caused them to look in the mirror and consider the new direction.

But there’s hope.

First things first, I’m excited to have Robin Lopez on the New York Knicks. Dude is humble, but has a loud personality. Plus, he contributes to “the little things,” like boxing out opposing players so that the team can secure rebounds. Our last major defensive center did damage in the blue and orange, and I expect a similar impact from our newest big man. Arron Afflalo, especially on his deal, is a nice pickup too, and hopefully someone who can lead the Knicks to higher respect, or even a playoff berth. And it’ll be interesting to see how Batum and Matthews fit in on their new teams.

Of course, the most interesting new team story will be that of LaMarcus Aldridge, who will be trying to do the impossible in succeeding Tim Duncan in San Antonio. While the task is huge, it’s amazing that Aldridge, not a shy Duncan admirer by any means, will be the one to do so. As a fan, it’s unfortunate to hear some of the ego-related issues that came out, and I really wanted the old core to achieve high, but I’m looking forward to seeing how Pop and Duncan refine Aldridge’s game, and how a star player like that adjusts to the Spurs’ system.

Portland

And that leaves Damian Lillard, my favorite player in the league, and the linchpin of the Portland Trailblazers’ future. I’ve been thinking in general how I feel about the breakup. In the immediate, I was dismayed to see the group that I’ve followed for the past few seasons separated, and Lillard on an island with a five-year extension in Portland. But then I thought again, and realized that, at the point where Lillard is now, stars either make themselves or succumb to the pressure. Lillard made the All-Star Game by the skin of his teeth last year. With undisputed pole position in Portland now, his game could very well take that leap to the next level, and he wouldn’t have to worry about an All-Star fringe appearance again in that case. I’m beyond excited for Lillard’s next chapter with the Blazers. I’m hopeful that he becomes the next all-time great point guard of the current era. He’s right about there currently, but can take it up a notch even further. I know it.

So, Blazers fans, NBA fans, and seemingly random onlookers, just know that though the Blazers have taken a step way back in the present, they have a bright future with the kid out of Weber State University. I know it. Barring injuries, which is hard to say when talking about the Portland Trailblazers, we may see the team competing again sooner than later.

An Update – January 3rd, 2015

Happy new year everyone. After a few months of inactivity on the sneaker front, it’s about time to update you all on what’s been going on. While taking a break from the constant ramblings on Twitter, I was rediscovering life in Florence, Italy, my home base for the Fall 2014 semester. Rightfully so, I focused on real world matters, like traveling across Europe, the finest culinary offerings of Italy, and my studies, before attempting to keep my hold on a world from which I was several time-zones and thousands of miles away. I still followed the latest news, and even contributed some to Finish Line’s blog, but from quite afar. Alas, my semester abroad has come to a close, and the clock has started ticking on my surely hectic 2015. First, though, I’d like to reflect on the past year just a bit.

Positano, one of the many picturesque places I visited while staying in Italy

Positano, one of the many picturesque places I visited while staying in Italy

Even if I’m not going to write up an full-fledged list, I will say that 2014 had some gems. For new silhouettes, the adidas ZX Flux was king. Sleek build, just technical enough with the heel cage and embossed stripes, endless possibilities with the upper, and only $90? No question that adidas hit it out of the ball park. I only got my pair (the blue Italia Independent collaboration) with a couple months to spare in the year, but right away, I got the hype. They’re real comfy, too. Nike wasn’t left out of my equation, as I’m a big fan of the Kobe IX. Bringing Flyknit into the basketball space seemed like an oddball mission, but Nike accomplished it with a stunning model fit for the Black Mamba. If only I could have gotten my hands on the Masterpiece iteration for a reasonable price. Also, an honorable mention to the Kyrie 1. A very modern silhouette for Nike’s foray into the next generation of signature ballers. As far as retro sneakers go, my favorite drop was a Ronnie Fieg and Dover Street Market collaboration with Puma: the Trinomic XT-2 in black and white. Simple, yes, but with a luxurious feel and plush leather upper, the perfect beat-around shoe for my time abroad. This one quickly became a go-to for me as I traveled around Europe. After all, it’s pretty difficult to find a outfit that doesn’t match such a simple sneaker.

IMG_0229

Ronnie Fieg x Dover Street Market x Puma Trinomic XT-2 “Achromatic” in Black/White

Obviously, that’s nowhere near as much as I have had to say about any of the past years in sneakers. Perhaps 2014 was not that great for footwear. More likely, though, it’s due to my ever-changing perspective on sneakers. As a 15-year-old always looking for something to collect, sneakers were a fun outlet, and a form of expression that I never explored prior. I lived in the moment, buying sneakers based off of immediate utility. Unlike my 20-year-old self, I never thought about how many I actually needed or if the sneakers would be effortless to wear with any outfit. Nowadays, with the sneaker resale market so apparent, changing priorities and some new passions, I’m buying less sneakers and scaling down my collection. It’s still fun to observe the excitement from the sidelines, but at the end of the day, a lot of embracing sneaker culture comes down to going out and buying new pairs. Maybe these next twelve months will have some better sneakers in store.

As many people do, I set out some goals for the new year. Getting the most enjoyment out of my ever-decreasing time left at Colgate and figuring out what path I’d like to take after college are two huge ones, but I’d also like to keep up with my writing efforts. Whether that’s reflected on here, on Finish Line’s blog, or elsewhere, I don’t care, but I’ve been writing on the web since 2003, and the day that comes to an end is nowhere near in sight. Stay tuned, and let’s all start off the new year right.

 

A Word with Jonah Levine

Jonah Levine

You may not know who Jonah Levine is yet, but you should take notes. The eighteen-year-old from New York City has been a friend of mine for a few years. I first met Jonah through the sneaker community, but now, he co-operates Lucid FC, a streetwear label, with Betts and Chet DeHart, two eighteen-year-old twins from Atlanta. Even though Jonah is preparing to attend his first semester at LIM College, it does not look like he’ll be slowed down one bit. I sat down with the streetwear up-and-comer to talk about Lucid FC, the crazy events of his summer, what’s up next, and…Bakery Boys? Check the interview below to shed some light.

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Jordan Spiz’ike “OG” White/Varsity Red/Cement Grey-Classic Green

Jordan Spiz'ike "OG" White/Varsity Red/Cement Grey-Classic Green

For me, everything Jordan Brand has been falling out of favor in the past few months. The Jordan Future, while an interesting concept, never appealed to me, particularly because I was never fond of the Air Jordan XI in the first place. Outside of my beat “Bred” Jordan IVs and a few Jordan 1s, I have been more and more reluctant to wear my Js over other, more sophisticated and lower-cut sneakers. And I haven’t given an ounce of thought to copping any of the year’s Retros. Growing up past the MJ era, I have had no major reason to like any of the Retros outside of the aesthetic appeal. Now that my look is phasing past most Jordans, I had no need to go out and buy any more of them.

Nostalgia. That’s what brings a lot of older Air Jordan fans to sneaker stores many a Saturday morning. Unfortunately, I was never able to experience the Retros in their original form, and thus, never had that feeling…until now.

Back in 2009, when I was first getting my feet wet in the wide pool of sneaker culture, I had a removed admiration for Jordans. I barely knew the basketball bravado of Michael Jordan, but I loved the silhouettes and simple colorways used on the earlier models. And my main gateway to these sneakers? Naturally for me at the time, rappers. A few years back, I invested a lot of my time into music-listening, whether it be the same classics over and over, or new artists and albums. I followed the happenings and lives of musicians, especially one Kanye West. From him, I started following affiliated rappers, and what kinds of music and fashion they were into as well. Which brings me to this:

Kid Cudi in Jordan Spiz'ike "OG" White/Varsity Red/Cement Grey-Classic Green

If you showed me the “OG” Jordan Spiz’ike on its own, I might not have thought anything of it, but ever since I came across this image, I will always associate that shoe with Kid Cudi. Seeing him with the red sweatshirt, white tee, dark jeans and Spiz’ikes made me pay attention to the shoe. In fact, I liked the shoe enough that it almost became my first Air Jordan. In late 2009, I ran across a pair in my size at a consignment shop, and would have been tempted to cop, except for two words uttered by the attendant in the store: “paint cracking.” He informed me that the Spiz’ike’s midsole paint would have cracked the second I put my foot into the shoe. Although nowadays I would accept that as a formality, paint-chipping scared me far away as a new sneaker buyer. And so, I went ahead and purchased a different pair.

Almost five years later, my fashion/sneaker tastes have changed significantly. And yet, seeing news of a re-release of the “OG” Jordan Spiz’ike in tandem with the “History of Jordan” Air Jordan VI Retro made my eyes open wide. For once I felt a desire to cop a sneaker not purely for aesthetics, performance, or comfort, but for the nostalgia. I don’t like the sneaker nearly as much as I did back in the day, but those past memories keep me feeling connected. Even if I don’t end up grabbing a pair, that feeling alone has me satisfied.

Extra Butter x Sperry Top-Sider “Beach Getaway” Release/Event Recap

Extra Butter x Sperry Top-Sider Release/Event Recap

Last week, my brother Dylan and I happened to be on the Lower East Side Thursday night, right on cue with the in-store release of Extra Butter’s latest project – a collaboration with Sperry Top-Sider that resulted in a beach-themed A/O boat shoe and Striper sneaker. The shoes were inspired by the shop’s roots in Long Island. The Striper pays tribute the Long Island Sound, while the A/O’s snazzy design reps the Atlantic coast. And while I was not looking to buy anything, Dylan had his eyes on the A/O. Either way, we were both down to catch up with the Extra Butter crew, so we headed down just before the release time of 8 pm.

When we arrived to the store, all I saw was a line of buyers waiting outside. I expected to go inside, hang for a bit, and head out soon after. Of course, I underestimated the spirit of the shop. Turns out they had a full-on party in tow for the drop, and the whole crew showed out. Although I have stayed relatively active in sneaker-blogging over the past year or so, this is my first post on this website for the entire year. In the past few months, I have questioned my passion for sneaker culture, but seeing events like this, where a store has fun with a release, puts my doubts to the side. A big shout-out to Jason Faustino and the entire Extra Butter team. You guys personify drive, determination, and enjoyment in sneaker culture, and that’s a hard thing to do nowadays. Straying far from uninspired, that’s for sure. Hit the jump for a quick flurry of photos from the event.  Continue reading

Jake’s Take – Top Sneakers of 2013

It’s pretty funny that I’m writing up a “Top Sneakers of 2013″ list when I have my selections for the half-year point just a few posts back, but I digress. The second half of 2013 brought the sneaker world a number of releases that rounded out the bountiful first half of the year. It’s a shame I was at school for some of the key second half releases. Perhaps having a chance to see some of them in person and ranking them accordingly would have changed the composition of my ten picks. Enough with the banter though.

10. Air Jordan III Retro ’88

Air Jordan III Retro '88As much as I like the Air Jordan III in it’s original “White Cement” colorway, this release stood above the rest because of the commemorative factor. The Nike Air backtab was cool to see, but I’m not even talking about that. For me, Nike’s precision in dropping the sneaker at the exact time of Jordan’s  free throw line dunk twenty-five years prior made this release an event. And at the end of the day, the colorway is one of the most solid out there.

9. Ronnie Fieg x Asics Gel Lyte III “Knicks”

Ronnie Fieg x Asics Gel Lyte III "Knicks"Ronnie Fieg put in work this year with Asics, and the “Knicks” Gel Lyte III offering from the East Coast Project was my favorite of the bunch. As a proud New Yorker, the blue and orange does for me what no other color combination can do. And if the colors themselves weren’t enough, little details like the color-blocking on the sole and the 3M accents make this running silhouette seem just right in colors normally associated with basketball. There’s not much that I can say against a “Knicks” colorway, especially one with the attention to quality and premium materials that Ronnie brings to each and every footwear collaboration on which he works.

8. Nike Flyknit Racer “Multicolor”

Nike Flyknit Racer "Multicolor"The great: The craziness of the multicolor knit pattern juxtaposes the sleek Racer silhouette to make for one hell of a sight. The not so great: Because every shoe looks different, and I’m more partial to the predominately volt and teal pairs, it’s not a shoe that I would get without doing some crazy scouting. Thankfully, I already have my Volt Flyknit Trainers, so it’s not an issue, but getting the right pair of the Racers would be insane. (Picture via modernART on Sole Collector Forums)

7. Air Jordan V Retro “Grape”

Air Jordan V Retro "Grape"I’ll admit…I went a little too crazy over the “Grape” Vs earlier in the year. Nonetheless, for all of the general release Air Jordan Retros that dropped this year, this one is king. Sure, there are gripes to be had when comparing this one and the ’06 version, but that white leather build with the purple and teal accents…nothing else like it. (Picture via Kicks Deals)

6. Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG “Knicks”

Air Jordan 1 High OG "Knicks"Although the team is currently in a state of shock, the Knicks allowed us New Yorkers to flourish earlier in the year. Plus, the sneaker world rallied around the team with better sneakers than ever. This was my favorite. In the 90s, it would be so paradoxical to love a Knicks-colored Air Jordan, but this iteration stood for Melo, and not Mike, so it got a pass. There have certainly been other sneakers out there with straight-up blue and orange color schemes, but the colors look nothing short of beautiful on the sleek, full-grain leather-comprised Air Jordan 1 silhouette. I said it on Christmas, and I’ll say it again: pretty sure I’ll never wear another pair of sneakers to the Garden now that I have and appreciate the “Knicks” Jordan 1.

5. Ronnie Fieg x New Balance 577 “Americana”

Ronnie Fieg x New Balance 577 "Americana"I don’t think any shoe has made me literally drop my jaw upon seeing it for the first time…that is, until I first laid eyes on this good ol’ New Balance. I have never really been into their inline stuff, but one thing that I have always said about New Balance is that they do wonders with navy and red. That notion had led me on a mission to find the perfect navy New Balance sneaker, and when I saw the “Americana” 577, I knew that I had found it. And seeing how the shoe came out in person, I was nothing short of thrilled. The effect on the pigskin makes it appear as if there are different shades of navy all over the shoe, and the red is bright as can be. Plus, the 3M hits and silver midsole splatter never hurt anyone. Ronnie Fieg had a lot of solid projects this year, but he saved his best for his last sneaker of the year. America’s colors at their finest. (Picture via Kith NYC)

4. Bape x UNDFTD x Adidas ZX5000

Bape x UNDFTD x adidas Originals ZX5000

Applause to Bape for executing a camouflage pattern so well that even someone who hopped on the anti-camo bandwagon could rave for days on their UNDFTD and adidas collaboration. They paired the signature Bape style of the pattern with beige and green suede, patriotically colored stripes, and a gum sole. *Bang*…that’s the sound of your mind being blown. Nowhere near overstated, but not understated either thanks to all of the details around the camouflage. With this premium sneaker in tow, I’m doubting any future prospects of picking up a camouflage sneaker. Nothing can even come close to this gem that the streetwear triumvirate of Bape, UNDFTD, and adidas brought to the world in April.

3. Nike Free Inneva Woven SP “Photo Blue”

Nike Free Inneva Woven SP "Photo Blue"While I’m all for classic silhouettes, there’s definitely something to be said for footwear with more up-to-date technology that both look and feel incredible. That’s the category under which the Free Inneva Woven, especially in that pure White Label colorway, falls. From the time I first slid this stunning blue Inneva on, the shoe was a summer go-to for me. The Inneva still keeps its distinct look with any ensemble, and the comfort is some of Nike’s finest, especially with thin socks (and sockless, for those that go that route). Free 5.0, Dynamic Fit upper, and NSW leather insoles…while this shoe will eventually be surpassed by something in the future (as all tech-based models are), for now, the “Photo Blue” Inneva is one of this year’s best. Just wish I could wear the shoe in the winter too… (Picture via Concepts)

1. TIE: Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG “Royal” & “Bred”

Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG "Royal" & "Bred"It would be blasphemy for me to not put these two on the same level. While one’s 2013 version has been out close to the entire year and the other’s has yet to drop, the pickups for both will be for the same doubling-up purpose. In most cases, this circumstance would drop a sneaker down into the other half of my top shoes, but not with these 1s, as they possess two of, if not my favorite sneaker color schemes out there. It just does not get more versatile, stunning, and classic than smooth black leather with gleaming red or royal blue, especially on the sleek Air Jordan 1 model. If my pairs last long enough, I would, without a doubt, wear both the “Royal” and “Bred” 1s into my old age. I’m looking forward to the day Jordan Brand drops easy-to-find versions of both, but for now, I can definitely live in the moment. Just gotta make sure I have my 1s in tow. (Picture via Trav409 of Sole Collector Forums)

And that sums up my 2013 in sneakers. I may put another post on the blog if I feel like it between now and New Years’ Day, but if I don’t, make sure to keep up with me on my Twitter, Instagram (both @jakepulver), and on Sole Selectah as I enter a new chapter of my sneaker blogging ventures.

An Update – December 23rd, 2013

Man, it’s been a while.

Five months have passed since my last post on jakepulver.com. Not exactly what I imagined when I started the website. At the same time, the reason for my abrupt pause was also pretty unbelievable. In July, I was recruited to write for an actual sneaker blog, which, even with my blogging past, I had never imagined happening. I was set to start writing in September, and in the span from late July to late August, I became a guest writer on the site.

Unfortunately, things did not work out the way that I believed that they were at the website, and I never ended up becoming a hired writer there. At the point at which I realized things were not going to work out, I was already in the thick of college work. With all of the assignments that I had, I just never got to starting the blog up again.

Fast-forward to the end of the semester, and I was contacted by one of the seasoned veterans in sneaker culture, and someone I look up to in all the madness: Jay Corbin. And now, I am happy to announce that starting on the turn of the new year, I will be writing for Sole Selectah, a website in TruStory Media’s network. I would like to extend sincere gratitude to Jay on this one. It’s one thing to just write for a hobby, but to know that someone respects that writing to attempt to push it to a new level is humbling.

I haven’t been too active on the sneakerhead social media scene as of late, but trust me…you’ll see me around a bit more now. Make sure to catch my writing on Sole Selectah in the near future, and stay tuned for one more post here before I start elsewhere.