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Finding 'the Secret' at the Rose Garden

There was me, that is Conrad, and my four droogs, that is Scotty, the Canadian, Gare Bare and the Stillman, and we sat in the Rose Garden trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening.

I quickly realized that any decisions would have to be handled by myself and Scotty, because the Canadian had gone loopy when he saw our tickets included all-you-can eat access to the Rose Garden's buffet tables. Apparently, there is widespread famine in Canada. You'd think something like that would make the news.

We got the hook-up through our friend, Gary, owner and chief bartender at the Oak Tree in Ashland. Tickets to the Portland Trail Blazers versus the Atlanta Hawks. Great seats in the lower section for cheap.

The free food thing was the sauce on the chicken wing. Especially for the Canadian.

It had been more than a decade since I saw a live basketball game. I grew up a fanatic, but it was hard not to be living in Illinois in the '90s.

The Michael Jordan Era was a magical time. We were privy to the best player, playing on the best team that played the game better than any other squad in history. The numbers don't lie: The 1995-96 Bulls went 72-10 for the season. No other team has done that.

Now that's not to say I was an unequivocal Jordan admirer. The man's maniacal ego put him in the pantheon with Stalin, Custer and Ted Bundy. I'm certain being around the guy for a week was insufferable for his team, and — as Jordan admitted during his vicious, self-serving and nakedly honest Hall of Fame induction speech — his family.

But it was easy to overlook Jordan's personal faults as he was jamming six championships down our throats.

Once that legendary Bulls team broke up, I drifted away from the sport. What was the point of watching the Toni Kukoc-lead Bulls eke out 15-win seasons less than two years after watching your team carry off the last of its trophies?

Recently, I've found myself drifting back to pro basketball. There are two reasons for this: Bill Simmons and, well, the Bulls are good again.

Simmons is a love-or-hate-him Internet columnist who now works for ESPN. His passion is the NBA, and he writes about the game purely from the fan's perspective. He's known for pounding out 1,400-word columns dense with film and television references and an unapologetic Boston Celtics homer slant.

(I believe the Simmons haters base their feelings on one petty fact: They wish they had his job. Think about it. The dude's paid big money by ESPN to watch basketball games and geek out on movies and "Mad Men." And all he has to produce at the end of a week is a column documenting his obsessions. Sign me up now, please.)

I dig his writing so much I got his bestselling tome "The Book of Basketball." And what a book it is, both in size and readability. It's the perfect bedside reader and could be used to bludgeon a burglar to death if need be. In TBOB, Simmons outlines what makes a good basketball player. He deems this "the Secret," which is a player choosing to make his teammates better instead of focusing on his own numbers.

That's it. Sounds simple, but it's not, considering the number of great talents who rarely or never rise to the level because they cannot grasp "the Secret." With "the Secret" in mind, I took my seat in the Rose Garden last week. The game was poorly played on both side, with the Blazers coming up well short after trailing from the opening tip off. But one thing I realized is Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge understands "the Secret" and will serve that team well for a long time.

That being said, the Rose Garden is a great venue with a frenzied, knowledgeable crowd. I have adopted the Blazers as my West Coast team, so I was sure to blow out my voice that night screaming at the referees. My buddy the Stillman apparently got loaded on overpriced beer and spent the game screaming, "Kill him! Kill Him!" at any Hawks player who touched the ball.

Meanwhile, Scotty, the Canadian and I took seats a bit farther up in a section with the open buffet. We destroyed our digestive tracts with hot dogs, ice cream, nachos slathered in oil-based cheese sauce and pizza.

A typical scene:

Me: "Man, Gerald Wallace looks a bit confused out there."

Scott: "Indeed. He doesn't seem comfortable at all. Hopefully he grows into the team soon."

The Canadian (returning to his seat with a slice of pepperoni pizza and more nachos, tears of joy streaming from his eyes): "Ohmygod you guys. I've never seen anything like this! Free food! I mean ... I just ... it's unbelievable ... ."

In all, it was a solid trip with some great dudes. Should I have saved the money and paid a bill? Probably. But I choose to purchase a handful of good memories instead, which is "the Secret" to life.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.