In a city that prides itself on craft beverages, plentiful farm-to-table food options, and hipster fashion, basketball has remained the City of Roses' most popular sport. Inhabitants of Portland have as much knowledge and passion for the game as they do their thrift stores. Relishing in the overall support and interest has been the Portland Chinooks of the IBL (International Basketball League), who's future looks bright in bringing the city more quality hoops.
Nestled in the lush, green, tree-lined area of Southeast Portland, the Portland Chinooks play their home games in an intimate and cozy setting. Fans consist of small families, and seemingly close friends of players which showed their support on a recent Friday night.
There is no shortage in talent at the IBL level, in fact, the league is growing and drawing in more players with Division 1 playing experience. The game action is fast-paced, sometimes sloppy, but certainly professional. The unique setup in Portland, allows fans to interact with players during the game, as the PA announcer inserts his own clever and witty commentary.
Chinooks owner and local businessman Terry Emmert is a passionate basketball fan himself, and when his team took on the Salem Sabres this particular night, he was dressed in a full suit and paced behind the team's bench, often times interacting with the team. Every game counts for the Chinooks, as they are looking to make the playoffs and hopefully play for their first championship on their home court. (The IBL playoffs will be held in Portland on the Chinooks home floor in early July)
To help his franchise evolve into a championship team, Emmert has enlisted in the services of Meadowlark Lemon, a 22-year Harlem Globetrotters veteran, and inductee of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Among Lemon's numerous duties as the team's General Manager, is the task of creating a winning environment, from ticket sales and promotions, to the level of talent on their bench. It is an undertaking that Lemon is thoroughly enjoying.
Lemon spoke with RidiculousUpside.com about the his current role with the Chinooks, and also about the league in general. Lemon described his purpose for the organization, "players play to their surroundings, I was brought in by the owner to fix the entire production, to make it more professional, and tidy it up."
Just before our conversation, Lemon helped a young kid designated with the task of mopping the floor during the game. Lemon grabbed the mop and showed the youngster the proper mopping method right after a collision took place on the floor.
It was a classic example of how Lemon is installing his knowledge and experience with the franchise, literally from top to bottom.
Lemon has a defined presence about him, and is incredibly engaging when he speaks. Perhaps that's because Lemon is an ordained minister and earned a Doctor of Divinity degree from Vision International University in Ramona, California.
Lemon continued to speak about the hopeful evolution of the organization, "at first, players weren't showing up to games and it looked like a glorified pickup game out here. It's the little things that matter, players get more confidence when they look around and see everyone caring and being professional about things."
The Chinooks have since added a broadcaster (Jeremy Scott) and now have live streaming video for their home games at the Eastmoreland Courts. The court, uniforms and employees are all branded with the team's fresh looking logo, which helps tie in the entire look and feel of their home court. Lemon and Emmert are increasing the level of professionalism in every facet.
When it comes to players for the Chinooks, Lemon explained that many of them are here for a reason. Redemption. "A lot of these guys are 'should of', 'would of', 'could of' guys, and now they're here for another chance to go and get it." Many of the players in the IBL hope to either play their way to contracts overseas, or in the NBADL. The Chinooks roster is highlighted by a relatively local kid, Jared Cunningham who played his high school ball in Oregon. The team also has David Lucas, who is the son of former NBA player Maurice Lucas, and played his high school ball in Tigard, Oregon.
The team is full of big men including Kevin Ford (6'9'', Oral Roberts), and even Joe Wolfinger (7'1'' University of Washington). The entire team looks the part of a professional basketball team, and despite their varied backgrounds, they play extremely well together. The crowd seemed to recognize this and connected with the group of players who donned the Chinooks' red, black and white uniforms.
On this particular evening, the Chinooks won a somewhat close game which was highlighted by an incredible display of athleticism late in the contest. Jared Cunningham transformed a transition pass into an alley-oop to the high-flying Germain Jordan. The play iced the game and lifted the crowd to their feet.
In the Chinooks' game program, a message to the fans from the organization is placed on the very first page. It reads, "The Portland Chinooks embody the philosophy of the International Basketball League, which is promoting fun-filled, affordable basketball entertainment for the entire community. The Chinooks organization is extremely committed to our community, professionalism, good sportsmanship and a high level of integrity. We hope you and your family enjoy a wonderful night of professional basketball."
The message contains exactly what Lemon preached this past Friday, and in a city that supports and understands the game of basketball as much as Portland's city dwellers do, the Chinooks organization is primed to capitalize on one of the best basketball markets in the entire country.