PORTLAND — Mention “the tip” in Seattle, and fans will think of Richard Sherman, the cornerback whose deflection on the final play of the NFC Championship Game sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.
Mention “the point” in Seattle and they’ll think of Jake Browning, the quarterback who extended his index finger at an Oregon player as he crossed the goal line in the Huskies’ 70-21 rout.
But Tuesday night, a new iconic image emerged for Emerald City sports fans, and it was authored by an athlete who has never played a pro game here. Thanks to Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, this city will forever have “the wave.”
There is no team more despised in Seattle than the Oklahoma City Thunder. Husky fans may loathe the Ducks and Cougs, and Seahawks fans will get caught up in divisional rivalries at times — but it in terms of incessant, ear-steaming hatred, it’s OKC by a panhandle.
Every year since the Sonics left in 2008, jilted fans wait for the Thunder’s demise. And every year since 2008, they have experienced the joy of the Thunder’s misery.
They’ve watched OKC lose in the Finals to the Heat and blow a 3-1 series lead to the Warriors. They’ve watched it lose to the Spurs and Mavericks in the conference finals as well.
They’ve watched James Harden get traded for Kevin Martin, Kevin Durant leave for Golden State, and Russell Westbrook lose in the first round despite winning NBA MVP.
But there may never have been a more satisfying moment than Tuesday’s Game 5.
Trailing the Thunder by 15 points midway through the fourth quarter, the Blazers tied the score and got the ball back with 17 seconds to go. They then gave it to Lillard, who let the clock tick down to 0:02 before drilling a 37-footer that not only ended the series, but gave him his 48th, 49th and 50th points.
It was the greatest shot in the organization’s history, but not the signature moment of the night. That came two seconds later, when Lillard turned to the Thunder’s bench and waved goodbye.
If ever a bond was formed between Portland and Seattle, it came right then. With all the trash-talking throughout the series, the Blazers had developed an antagonism toward the Thunder that Seattleites feel consistently. That’s what was so gratifying about the wave for both the 503 and 206. It wasn’t just “we won.” It was also “you lost.”
Usually a post-win taunt would seem unsportsmanlike, but this one didn’t. It was quick, subtle, and felt justified.
Asked about it after the game, Lillard explained that this was simply “having the last word.”
“I was just waving goodbye to them. After Game 3, (Thunder guard) Dennis Schroder was out there pointing to his wrist, they was out there doing all these celebrations and doing all this stuff, and we kept our composure,” Lillard said. “After one win that is what they decided to do. And we was like ‘OK, what we want to do is win four games. And when we win those four games, there’s not going to be nothing to talk about.’ So that’s what that was.”
Then came Lillard’s Instagram post.
“It is the unemotional, reserved, calm, detached warrior who wins, not the hothead seeking vengeance and not the ambitious seeker of fortune.” — Sun Tzu, the Art of War.
Brian Mankien and his wife Veronica were among those in Sonics jerseys at Moda Center Tuesday. Brian said they came down from Seattle to “twist the knife a little bit.”
It was a nice sentiment, but their help wasn’t needed. Lillard twisted the knife just fine.
Before the Sonics left, the Blazers were Seattle’s primary NBA enemy. It went beyond proximity, too, as the teams frequently squared off in the playoffs.
The idea of celebrating a Portland victory was unfathomable at one point, but Tuesday, a Portland victory supplied Seattle with its most satisfying NBA moment in more than a decade.
Obviously, this city wants to get the Sonics back and go back to hating the Blazers. For one night, though, rivals became allies and provided Seattle with an indelible moment.
Portland is a great beer town, but if inclined, Lillard should have one up here. Just like in Rip City, he’d never have to pay.