A seismic event occurred in Cascadia today, although not of the geological type. The Portland Trail Blazers traded long-time small forward Nicolas Batum to the Charlotte Hornets for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh.
Most of the internet is talking about roster implications, salary caps and legacy, but that’s not really what we do over here at Cascadian Abroad. Yet, this trade hits close to home.
Nic was one of our favorite players. The France native joined the Blazers as a 19-year-old, acquired in a draft-day trade with the Houston Rockets. He was part of a young core tasked with leading the franchise out of the shadows of the “Jail Blazer” era, joining superstars Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge and the previous season’s #1 draft pick Greg Oden.
As the years passed, Roy and Oden were forced out of the league with crippling knee injuries. Aldridge and Batum were the only players left from the 2008 team that re-ignited Blazermania after several losing seasons. There’s a chance both could be gone by the time Opening Night rolls around this fall.
I have several vivid memories of Nic and his time in Portland, but two in particular stand out. The first was an in-person encounter at the Fred Meyer store near the Blazers practice facility in Tualatin, OR. It must have been right around the start of training camp because Freddy’s had its Halloween costume display out.
I’d picked up a child’s size Super Mario Bros. costume and was holding it up to my chest when Batum walked around the corner, carrying some personal hygiene product or something. He looked at me and chuckled, flashing his trademark crooked smile. I’m not one to get starstruck, but I was definitely a little embarrassed to be caught in the act of stupidity by one of my favorite Blazers.
The second memory happened against the San Antonio Spurs in 2011. By the end of the season—shortened due to a labor dispute—the Blazers were in rebuild mode again. Roy would have to retire because of his injuries, the team cut bait on Oden and fired coach Nate McMillan. But the 2011 season was special.
We were at the gym and watching the game on TV. The Spurs were leading 96-90 with 1:21 left in the game, so we decided to head for home. I flipped on the radio in the car as the amazing end of the game unfolded. The Blazers scored eight straight points, an ally-oop to Nic with just 0.9 seconds left in the game. The electricity is still palpable in the video.
Batum was a lightening rod among Blazers faithful, but I’m sure he’ll receive a rousing ovation on his first trip back to Rip City. I’ll never become a Charlotte Hornets fan, but I’ll always be a Nicolas Batum fan.