Inside the PK80 From a Fan Perspective: Heaven & Hell

Posted by Joshua Lars Weill on November 28th, 2017

It’s raining. No surprise there. Oregon in late November seems a bit odd for a destination basketball tournament, but when the King of Sneakers lives down the road, what better place to be, eh? For three days, you’ve called the Rose Garden home. No, it’s not the Moda Center; it’s the Rose Garden. One sounds like a classic hoops venue. The other like a place you get your pancreas checked out.

With this simple piece of plastic, three days of hoops madness was upon you.

It’s Day 3, and again you and your cager-obsessed cohort play seat roulette, scouting for lower-bowl seats with much better views than your upper-bowl budgets allowed. A winner! Row N, Section 101. Just behind the home bench. You avoid the usher by hiding behind your bag.

Sweater-clad North Carolina fans stroll in late, hands full of outrageously priced snacks. Chicken fingers (a cool $13), pizza (just $7 a slice!), and tacos ($13 for two. Seriously.). How anyone could get tipsy on $12 beers is beyond you, but then again you drive a 1997 Saturn, so what do you know?

You look across the floor and Bill Walton is calling the game for ESPN. You wonder what he could be saying. Because he could be saying anything. “Have you ever taken a trip down the mighty Deschutes river?” “I met the chief of the reservation when I was lost, in 1971, and he changed my life.” “When you’re struggling you have to think of life as a single stream and find your way upriver.” You ponder whether Walton actually remembers playing here in 1978 or not.

The UNC fans assembled are prepared to rip the roof off Rip City, but they never get the chance. The Tar Heels shoot like they’re throwing the game, even though they appear to actually be trying. It’s no contest, and after a little while you realize you’re sort of watching the game without watching the game because, after 21 hours of basketball, your brain feels like a sweaty gym sock. Out on the floor the whistle blows and Michigan State’s players cradle the gaudy PK80 trophy like it’s worth something other than a few less suicide sprints from Tom Izzo. But it’s good to see them take pride in beating the snot out of North Carolina.

This score on the big board was the last time UNC fans felt good on Sunday night at the PK80.

Between games, birthday boy Phil Knight is honored and gets a loud standing ovation. He seems happy in his wax museum sort of way. Then it occurs to you we’re all cheering for a man who brought us $300 sneakers, L’il Penny, and, however indirectly, Lavar Ball, and you think, “Should we be cheering so loudly?”

You had to move seats again, and somehow you end up even closer to the court. After a few minutes, you look around and realize everyone near you is working. Either they’re Duke grads shorting stocks or NBA scouts. Turns out it’s the latter. You peek at the Bulls scout’s notes on Jaren Jackson, Michigan State’s top recruit. Then you hope for their sake that no one was taking notes on the UNC players.

Human boo magnet Grayson Allen warms up. This prompts some Florida fan nearby to be “The guy half-ass yelling things he thinks are hilarious but are not at all hilarious,” and does so just softly enough that Allen can’t actually hear him. But, sadly, his friends can, so they keep egging him on. It’s bad and he won’t stop for two more hours.

Duke fans decide to join us around tip time. They will proceed to cheer for the first five minutes, then again about five minutes before halftime, then for the first five minutes of the second half, and the last five minutes of the game. If you consider how sloppy and freshman-y their boys played for long stretches, it makes more sense. But still.

While the Blue Devils and Gators warm up, the parents of the Michigan State players get visits from their large sons. They dole out hugs and Sizzle Pie pizza slices as a reward for a game well played. Florida cheerleaders walk the aisles handing out hideous pom-poms. Every guy within range takes one, even the scouts.

This may or may not be a secret apartment Blazers owner Paul Allen installed. Let’s go with yes.

Florida starts hot. All 11 of their fans roar. You look up and Duke is down 21-6. Florida coach Mike White looks like a movie villain watching his goons torture a prisoner, his arms folded and his face devoid of expression. Regardless, Duke’s Marvin Bagley remains unstoppable.

Branded PK80 t-shirts are tossed out again, just as they have been at every timeout for three days. But still weak-armed dance team members can’t seem to throw them more than four rows, meaning that the rich kids up front also walk away with souvenirs while the rest of us get bupkis. Welcome to today’s America, Jack.

There’s a tie for the loudest cheer of the night: a cut-away video of Portland State besting a hapless Stanford team in the other (extremely empty) venue, and some unicycling lady named The Amazing Red Panda kicking up six empty bowls onto her head.

Somehow on three straight trips, Bagley does not touch the ball. If he does not get the ball every time down the floor, then Duke is doing it wrong. They start to get him the ball. Gators guard Chris Chiozza continues to dart and flick around tall men, finding nooks where there are no nooks. But he looks tired. He’s taken hard fouls all game and run non-stop for days.

You eat half the sandwich you snuck into the arena via a hidden pocket in your trusty bag. For some sad reason, you feel a swell of accomplishment. Still unfunny Florida guy yells still unfunny unfunny things. You’re five game minutes from the end of the journey. You struggle to remember the first game you watched, some 80-plus hours ago. It was Butler-someone, right? It’s all a blur.

The final game of this grand event comes down to a final shot. And yet this time, there is no final shot, as Florida coughs up the ball meekly, and once again Duke skates by, outplayed for 30 minutes. But they got it done. That’s what great teams have to do. Duke fans leave jubilant. Literally everyone else leaves disappointed. It’s still raining.

You exit the arena satisfied, although surprisingly tired for sitting on your useless behind for three days. Maybe it’s eye strain. Or the wide swatch of humanity around you discussing each of their little worlds and being unable to stop listening. Yes, Uncle Allen still has the diabetes. And no, Samantha, you can’t go to Mexico for Spring Break. Still, it’s not that often basketball of this caliber and scale comes to the Pacific Northwest. You can safely say the tickets were worth the cost. As the train pulls in you wonder if this event might become an annual affair. And if so, then you, the hopeless hoops junkie, would get your wish.

God bless Phil Knight, the glorious bastard. May he live to be 150.

JWeill (27 Posts)

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