When I started showing up for Trail Blazer media day it was a little more than three decades ago and things were a lot different.
Players had to autograph a few hundred basketballs, as they do to this day, pose for promotional pictures, read a few scripted lines for promotional videos or the radio and then, at the end of a long day, head into the media room for interviews. I never blamed them for dreading the media part of it during what was already a taxing day -- nobody likes to be asked the same questions over and over, particularly on live television or radio where there are no do-overs.
Monday, as the Trail Blazers went about their duties of autographing everything from skateboards to basketballs, mugging for promotional pictures and all the rest, I could have excused some weary and wary looks from the players as they joined our "Talkin' Ball" set. But after a full day of all the other chores, they came to us with an almost universal attitude that I don't recall from previous teams.
Now remember, I go all the way back to the Jack Ramsay and Rick Adelman eras and the players in those days were, by and large, an affable group. Good guys. I can't say nearly as much for players of other eras, though.
But I was extremely impressed with what I saw from the Trail Blazers Monday. Almost without fail, each player reached across the desk, looked us in the eye and shook hands with each of us prior to the cameras turning on. Players were not just polite, they were cordial, outgoing, smiling and seemingly trying their best to have fun with the situation. During the interviews they were relaxed, letting a little personality show.
Now while I'd like to think that all this was simply because they'd missed us over the summer and were just excited to renew our acquaintance, but I know better. This is just a pretty nice group of people on this team. Good guys from all I can see. What you hear from the coaching staff and front office about these players and their character appears to be legit.
"They're good guys," said head coach Terry Stotts after practice Tuesday. "I've said this before, but last year was a very refreshing year from a coaching standpoint because of their work ethic, their character, the type of people they are and certainly they're talented. But all that stuff matters. It makes them want to come to work. They enjoy coming to work and they enjoy each other's company. It makes it easier for the coaches and everyone else in the building."
Does having players like that make a long-term difference on the court for a franchise?
"Yes," said Stotts emphatically. "Certainly you have to have talent. It starts with talent. But character and culture and all those things aren't far behind."
The team certainly brought a lot of enthusiasm to Tuesday's first practice, at least the part the media was allowed to watch. I'd expect that to continue. The leadership among the players is as solid as it is in the front office and on the bench. This organization is tight. Close.
And that can only help it navigate through the long season ahead.