Here’s how one small business still feels — and celebrates — Damian Lillard’s impact on Portland

Here’s how one small business still feels — and celebrates — Damian Lillard’s impact on Portland

You didn’t hear a downpour or see jerseys on fire at Portland Trail Blazers icon Damian Lillard’s anticipated return to the Fashion Center as a Milwaukee Buck. Instead, you heard a 63-second standing ovation, and the franchise responded to the applause by forming a loud heart with its big hands. The event wasn’t about hate, but a mutual love shared between Lillard and the city.

This was evident in the arena, but also around town, especially at Back to the Basket, a vintage basketball store (located on Hawthorne in Southeast Portland).

Co-owners Troy Douglass, 34, and Jalen Thomas, 29, held the thrift store open Wednesday evening for a watch party surrounded by the store’s apparel and memorabilia from decades of basketball history. The two lifelong Blazers fans — or, as Douglas puts it, “womb to grave” fans — understood the magnitude of the moment and wanted to share it with the community. It’s a party! Bring your friendsan email was sent to customers announcing the event.

“Dame means everything if you’re a Portland Trail Blazers fan,” Douglass said. “It gave us hope during a dark time in Blazer history.”

Douglass and Thomas have built a paradise for basketball fans at Back to the Basket since opening in late 2020. Crunchy sneakers, protected in a plastic bag, are on the left side of the wall. retracted hats line the right-hand wall. The center of the store showcases four racks of hard-to-find T-shirts, shorts and knitwear. Then every inch of the walls and shelves are filled with basketball goodies and novelties. A pair of sneakers hanging from a lace does not waste space even on the ceiling. Like Mike-style and a cut of Bugs Bunny in his Toon Squad uniform smiling at shoppers.

The longer you browse the store, the more past basketball Easter eggs you’ll find — special-edition NBA Barbies still in the box, a Rasheed Wallace dinner plate, a bench seat from the unforgettable 2005-06 Blazers season. Although the store leans heavily toward Blazers, the owners are quick to remind you to return to the Basket. Basketball Shop for all fans and teams, NBA or college.

This inclusive design is not only for the goods, but also for the philosophy shared by Douglas and Thomas. The two don’t just want to build a basketball business, they want an open community, neighborhood meeting for everyone to come together. This Dame event was one of the latest steps in that effort, which includes a goal of more in-store events by 2024.

The party had a holiday theme for Lillard, but for the tight-knit group of 15 to 20 people who attended, it was more of a celebration of Back to the Basket and an effort to support the community where small independent businesses operate. Parenting at Hawthorne.

“I could tell from the crowd that maybe it wasn’t the strongest of Blazers fans,” Douglass said. “But it was Back to the Basket people, and it felt really good.”

In the spring of 2014, when a sophomore Lillard hit his iconic playoff buzzer beater in Game 6 to eliminate the Houston Rockets, Douglas was “selling hats and t-shirts” to help create the “Dame Time” myth. garage.”

Douglass, who grew up in Lake Oswego, launched his clothing brand Cultural Blends in 2011 while a student at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. In that magical 13-14 season, the brand did not yet have its own domain name. , operates on the Big Cartel e-commerce platform. Douglass was trying in vain to pick up one of the Blazer-themed hats from the Moda Center department store—a snapback with big numbers on the front that just read, 1977Refers to Portland’s first and only World Championship.

Then, on May 4, 2014, two days after Lillard hit that historic shot to end Portland’s 14-year playoff streak, the star was photographed boarding the team’s plane to San Antonio for a second-round series. He was wearing nothing but Cultural Blends 1977 hat One of Douglass’ friends had given Lillard a snapback during his signing earlier that year. Now, with the city buzzing with Rip City spirit, Lillard wore it in a high-profile moment.

When Douglass saw the photo, circles immediately began running in the parking lot of Eastport Plaza. Business began to flourish.

“It was a dream, but trying to make it happen in time was a nightmare…” Douglass said. “I haven’t slept in four weeks.”

Cultural Blends had only eight hats in inventory, but over the next 24 hours, the Big Cartel site received an order roughly every 1.5 seconds, Douglass said. The Blazers called and asked if they could buy a bunch to sell at the Fashion Center for the upcoming Spurs series. Douglass and his mother set up an assembly line to pack the boxes. Her embroiderer was working overtime. It took a while, but they fulfilled every order. When about 244 hats arrived at the Fashion Center for Game 4 of the next series, they were sold by halftime, Douglass said.

“Without that hat, Back to the Basket probably wouldn’t exist,” he said.

In 2018, with the help of a grant from the Douglass Native American Youth and Family Center — Douglass is an enrolled tribal member of the Grand Ronde — Cultural Blends moved into its first brick-and-mortar location at the Lloyd Center. It operated there until its closure in December 2022. Not long after the Lloyd Center location opened, Douglas contacted Thomas about buying and selling Yeezy 350 sneakers through Facebook Marketplace.

“I just remember it was a real experience and I got a good vibe out of it,” Douglass said.

At the time, Thomas was trying to make it as a professional basketball player on his journey. The Liberty High graduate from Hillsboro played junior college ball, then relentlessly chased his NBA dream in second-division pro leagues in El Salvador and Armenia. Some Blazers fans may recognize Thomas from a 2023 Rose Garden Report profile of him, detailing Thomas’ tryout for Portland’s new G League, Rip City Remix.

During the sneaker dating, Douglass told Thomas about his idea for a basketball vintage store. The two kept in touch. Then, after the COVID-19 pandemic halted Thomas’ pursuit of basketball, the two returned to Basket in September 2020 (the store was originally called Ball Was Life, but a cease and desist letter from sports website Ballislife changed).

In the more than three years since its grand opening, Back to the Basket has firmly established itself in Portland’s basketball culture. It has to do with the uniqueness of the product, but still its community-oriented, feel-good vibe—certainly cliché for a small business, but true for a store. Douglas is quick to smile and call man!At his homecoming watch party, he instructed his two-year-old son, Taj, who was stumbling around in a Lillard shirt, to call his various friends, including this reporter, “uncle.”

As the face of the store’s creative and vibrant social media content alongside store employee Keyshawn Vogt, 24, Thomas has helped the business build an impressive following. The store’s TikTok account has over 250,000 followers and its Instagram account has over 20,400 followers. The videos feature quick edits, graphics, and lots of skits (Thomas “OG” and Vogt play salesmen in the video below).

As a popular basketball outlet in Portland, Dame’s departure had ripple effects and even returned to Basket. Thomas noted that some things have slowed down, especially on Blazers game days, as fans are less excited to attend games.

“We have a really young talented group, but the bread and butter has been Dame,” Thomas said, referring to the Blazers’ rebuild.

Still, Thomas reiterated that whether the Blazers are having a down year or hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy, the store is bigger than one player or one team.

So on Wednesday, Back to the Basket gathered around the 48-inch TV behind the register for the strange but “joyous” experience of watching Lillard return to Portland in green and white.

It was a smaller turnout than some of their previous events, but the attendance was true family, friends and fans of the store. Along with Taj, Douglas’ partner Sidney was there in a rare Blazers jacket (Douglass was wearing a ’90s Blazers practice jersey). Thomas’ mother Angela and sisters Jada and Dante the family!” As Angela said.

Old co-workers and friends from Douglass’ Lloyd Center days showed up. Xander Lyons, 24, said Douglas was a friend, but he also looked to him as a mentor as an Indigenous business owner. Lyons is of Shuswap First Nations heritage from British Columbia and sells vintage clothing through her online clothing store, Kséles Supply. Perhaps the greatest example of the owners’ vision, 27-year-old Meghan McCluren stopped by after work for some fun. McCluren, a circus performer, is a Celtics fan, not a Blazers fan, but he loves sports and is looking for more people in his community who share that interest.

“He already has a conversational attitude,” he said of Back to the Basket.

At the end of the back-to-back game, most people at the party were disappointed that Lillard couldn’t try to hit a Dame Time on Moda for old time’s sake. But when the buzzer sounded with the Blazers leading 119-116, the room erupted in cheers and Douglas rolled up his arms as he shouted to the small crowd.

“We all love basketball here and it’s a wave,” Thomas said. “…We’ll be here for a while, man.”

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