The likely first two picks in the NBA draft will be linked forever, one starting out as a Trail Blazer and one as a Sonic.
LAS VEGAS — We are waiting for Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, the two teenagers charged with resurrecting professional basketball in the Northwest.
It is a few minutes after 11 a.m. and the conditions are perfect for a grand entrance for the men of the moment. Soon after, they stroll in from separate entrances and meet in the middle of the ballroom of the ultra-swanky Wynn Hotel.
They shake hands with several powerbrokers in the NBA and move in a relaxed, self-assured manner as if they own the place. They sit next to each other at a podium to promote Team USA basketball. They pose for pictures and conduct interviews together as if joined at the hips.
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During a quiet moment, they share a private conversation, which ends up with Durant bursting into laughter.
Asked later what they talked about, Oden said, “I was telling him what I’m doing for the Memorial Day weekend. People think we talk about basketball, but to be honest, we never talk about basketball. It’s always about what we’re going to do or where we’re going next or what’s up with this guy or that guy.”
Admittedly, they’re not friends, but they’re friendly.
Notable figures who spent time with the Blazers and Sonics:
Shawn Kemp: 1989-90 Seattle, 2000-02 Portland
• One of the best PFs in the ’90s. Downslide began in Portland.
Maurice Lucas: 1976-80 Portland, 1986-87 Seattle, ’87-88 Portland
• Trail Blazers legend was the last player traded between the teams, in 1987.
Nate McMillan: 1986-2005 Seattle, 2005-present Portland
• Mr. Sonic declined Seattle coaching job for the Blazers.
Wally Walker: 1976-78 Portland, 1978-82 Seattle
• Only player to win an NBA title with Sonics and Blazers.
Bob Whitsitt: 1986-94 Seattle, 1995-03 Portland
• Architect of championship-contending teams in both cities.
“We’re cool,” Oden said. “He’s from the inner city of Washington (D.C.) and I’m from Indianapolis, so we’re totally different types of guys. We haven’t spent a lot of time together, but every time I see him our relationship gets stronger and stronger. And I got a funny feeling that I’ll be seeing a lot of him from now on.”
That’s a big understatement.
After bucking the odds for a 1-2 finish in last Tuesday’s draft lottery, the Portland Trail Blazers and Sonics will select first and second, respectively, in the June 28th draft. The fortuitous turn of events could mean that Oden, the Ohio State center, and Durant, the Texas forward, will play in the Northwest for many years.
“If this thing [the draft] happens like people say it will, then yeah, I guess you can say that we’re going to be linked for the next however long it is,” said Oden, who will likely be chosen by Portland. “But so far, nothing has really happened like it was supposed to. All this time, I’ve been hearing that Memphis and Boston were going to win [the lottery], but that didn’t happen, so who knows.
“It seems like Kevin and I have been linked to one another our entire lives, so in a way, this kind of makes sense.”
Actually, their careers first began to intertwine as high-school juniors in 2004. Back then, Oden was considered the top prep player in the country at Lawrence North (Ind.), while Durant didn’t cement the title of second best until midway through his season at perennial powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
Durant further entrenched himself as the No. 2 prep player during the McDonald’s All-American Game when he won co-MVP honors and scored 25 points to lead the West team to victory. Oden, who played with an injured right wrist, had 10 points, five rebounds and four blocks for the East.
It was the only time they’ve played against each other.
“We play two different positions and there’s no possible way that you can say who’s going to win,” Oden said. “He’s going to win a one-on-one game because his game is so different and better suited to win a one-on-one matchup than mine. You’re not going to see me out there on the perimeter trying to guard him because that’s not going to happen.”
Added Durant, “And you’re not going to see me in the post trying to match up with him because he’s too big. Hopefully one of my teammates can handle him because I know that I can’t.”
Standing next to each other, their differences in demeanor and appearance become obvious.
With deep lines canvassing his forehead, Oden, 19, has the face of a man twice his age and looks old enough to be Durant’s father. While he often appears to be frowning, the muscular 7-foot, 250-pound center wearing a beige suit, salmon-colored shirt and dapper brown loafers is more engaging and playful than his counterpart.
Oden makes wisecracks and enjoys bantering with the media. He even jokingly referred to himself as a cross between Will Smith’s character in the “Fresh Prince” sitcom and Urkel from “Family Matters.”
The comment drew a chuckle from Durant, who also has a friendly disposition, although he’s a bit more reserved beneath the bright lights of the cameras. Dressed in a white polo, loose-fitting blue jeans and white sneakers, the baby-faced 18-year-old looks as if he should be preparing for his senior prom and not answering questions about if he believes he’s going to save the Sonics in Seattle.
“He’s always been very mature for his age,” said Wayne Pratt, Durant’s father. “I look at those types of expectations as a challenge. Kevin has been preparing for this all of his life.”
Oden and Durant have been described as once-in-a-decade players by basketball pundits.
Actually, legitimate back-to-the-basket centers like Oden come around about once every five years. A “double-double machine” and “someone you can build a whole team around,” said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. He’s quick and nimble for his size and his build, long sinewy muscles, small hips and a broad back makes him an athletic marvel. Oden is the safe pick.
Then there’s Durant. He stops conversations with his play and leaves spectators and opponents alike in awe. It’s impossible to place him in a category because of his many talents. Sonics president Lenny Wilkens calls the incredibly thin 6-9, 225-pound forward a “five-tool player” who can shoot, pass, dribble, defend and accepts coaching.
And now the Northwest has its two saviors — The Sure Thing and The Next Big Thing — to resurrect a listless rivalry that’s grown staid and stale in the past two decades.
Truth be told, there has never been much of an NBA rivalry between Seattle and Portland despite their close proximity. Forget about the border wars where Washington and Oregon wage intense collegiate battles in football and men’s basketball.
Since the Blazers entered the NBA three years after the Sonics in 1970, both teams have peacefully co-existed. They’ve split four playoff pairings and combined to produce only a handful of memorable encounters.
“In all honesty, you walk around both cities and talk to fans and they might say that the [Los Angeles] Lakers are bigger rivals,” said Jerome Kersey, the long-time Blazers forward who spent the 1997-98 season in Seattle. “There was no love lost between us and the Sonics, but to really get a rivalry going, both teams have to be good at the same time.”
When the Blazers won the championship in 1977, the Sonics posted a 40-42 record. When Seattle won the title two years later, Portland finished 45-37 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
The following years provided many yin-yang seasons. While Portland was dominant from 1990-92 and made two Finals appearances, the Sonics were mediocre. When Seattle advanced to the 1996 Finals, the Blazers won just 44 games. When Portland made consecutive trips to the Western Conference finals in 1999 and 2000, Seattle was average again.
Recently, both teams have struggled. Seattle has made just one trip to the playoffs in the past five years while Portland hasn’t recovered since losing to the Lakers 4-3 in the 2000 Western Conference fnals. The Blazers were swept in the first round in each of the next three years and haven’t made the playoffs in the past four seasons.
The last time the Sonics and Blazers were in the playoffs in the same year was 2002, and the last time they met in the postseason was ’91.
“Great rivalries are built in the playoffs, but this rivalry is unique because it has so many layers and the fabric of these two teams is interwoven,” said Blazers assistant Dean Demopolous, who coached four years in Seattle. “It’s not every day that Mr. Sonic [Nate McMillan] coaches the Blazers or we draft [Seattle’s] Brandon Roy and Martell [Webster] or Mr. [Paul] Allen, a Seattle icon, owns the Blazers.
“You add these two kids [Oden and Durant] to the mix, and now you really got something special.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|Two Northwest towns, two NBA teams|
|A comparison of the rival cities and teams:|
|1967-68||First NBA season||1970-71|
|One (1979)||NBA championships||One (1977)|
|Two||NBA Hall of Famers||Four|
|None||NBA MVPs||One (Bill Walton)|
|Dec. 2, 1869||City incorporated||Feb. 8, 1851|
|Emerald City||City nickname||The City of Roses|
|Eight||Fortune 500 companies||Two|
|$70,133||Median family income||$55,259|
|$363,000||Median home price||$225,000|
|Source: CNNmoney.com 2006 report|