In the world of sports, every fan loves a heated debate or a fun comparison. Twitter features a flurry of arguments on the greatest NBA player of all-time, debates on if NBA referees are more crooked than the Leaning Tower of Pisa or Troy Aikman’s odd look-alike Jay-Z.
After spending entirely too much time on Twitter the past seven and a half years and viewing comparisons and hot takes daily, I finally brainstormed my favorite comparison yet: Iowa State basketball is the equivalent of the Portland Trail Blazers (which isn’t necessarily a good thing).
Let’s start by looking at each team’s historical success. The absolute peak of each team occurred over 20 years before I was born, with the Blazers winning their lone title in 1977 and Iowa State made a run to the Final Four in 1944.
Even with a title and a deep run during World War II, it feels like each team should have more to its resume, but some bad luck sunk those dreams quicker than Michael Jordan’s baseball career.
After Portland’s title in ‘77, the Blazers star at the time — none other than current elite color commentator Bill Walton — fell victim to injuries. Portland cruised to a 58-24 record but lost Walton late in the season due to a busted up foot (he did manage to play in two playoff games after the injury).
Walton missed three of the next four, but his final games in a Portland jersey unfolded in the 1978 season. If Walton finishes the ‘78 season, it seems likely Portland makes the Finals and beats a middle-of-the-pack Washington Bullets team.
On the Iowa State side of things, you can probably guess where I’m going. If Georges Niang doesn’t break his foot in Iowa State’s opening 2014 NCAA Tournament game, the Cyclones appear in the National Championship (yeah, I said it).
The bracket that year broke perfectly for the Cyclones (unlike Niang’s foot). Iowa State had a path to the Final Four where it didn’t even face a higher-seeded team. After Niang broke his foot against North Carolina Central, Iowa State sneaked past North Carolina and lost by five to eventual National Champion and 7 seed UCONN.
Niang opened up the Cyclone offense in the tourney opener, scoring 24 points in 26 minutes, and Iowa State wouldn’t have had to lean on the rest of the starters so much with his presence on the court.
Also, I think Michigan State (Iowa State’s matchup after UCONN in the event it won) was a good but not great team that had just enough to knock off 1 seed Virginia. The Spartans lost seven of their last 12 regular season games that year and were gifted two double-digit seeds on the first weekend. That Iowa State team wins easy, in my opinion.
This is all to say that Portland and Iowa State had bad luck with a ripe postseason and superstars’ feet. Simply, the Blazers and Cyclones combined for more foot trouble than Michael Scott after his run-in with a George Foreman Grill.
Despite the postseason bad luck, each team has tasted success recently in the postseason. Iowa State’s owned the Big 12 Tournament of late and has a Sweet 16 appearance this decade, while Portland is currently making a push for the Western Conference Finals.
Even with the solid success in recent years, there’s been some monumental let downs — kind of like Michael Jordan’s baseball career.
Portland’s made the playoffs the previous two seasons, and they’ve been swept the previous two seasons. For Iowa State all that needs to be said is Hampton, UAB and Ohio State (twice).
Aside from gut-wrenching losses, each team had massive disappointments when it comes to individual players. Portland drafted Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan, and the Blazers whiffed on another top-five all-time player when they picked Greg Oden first overall over Kevin Durant.
Meanwhile, Iowa State consistently found talent but failed to find results. The Cyclones roster featured a future first-round NBA pick in two seasons late in the 2000s with Craig Brackins. The Greg McDermott-led Cyclones churned out a 30-34 record over those two seasons.
The previous two seasons before Brackins led the charge in Ames, Iowa State had Wesley Johnson, who contributed a solid 12.4 points per game during his sophomore campaign in 2007-08. Iowa State still went 14-18 in Johnson’s best Cyclone season.
Instead of teaming up with Brackins, Johnson transferred to Syracuse, won Big East Player of the Year and went fourth-overall in the NBA Draft.
Failing to go at least .500 with Johnson or Brackins is like having three of the best NBA superstars — we’ll just throw in Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook for this example — and failing to win a title. It’s impossible to do! Oh wait.
My last comparison is the similar makeups of the two teams’ cities. Iowa has zero major professional sports teams and nothing to do in the winter, so Iowans gravitate toward college teams.
Portland is home to some big soccer teams, but the Blazers are the favorite child of the city. While there’s been plenty of postseason letdowns, player mismanagements and other tough breaks, the fans are some of the loyalest bunch, and through all the pain and suffering, that’s what makes both teams special.