It was electric. An event. Everything it was supposed to be. The Maine Red Claws made their regular season debut at the Portland Expo on Friday with a 102-79 win over Dee Brown's Springfield Armor, but the game wasn't the story. The event was the story on Friday night. The sell-out crowd, the smell of french fries, the Gritty's Red Claws Ale, the Hoopie Pies, the Red Claws Dancers (sweet god, the Red Claws Dancers), the radio broadcast, and the wall-to-wall media. Ed T. Rush, Dave Cowens, Dee Brown, Danny Ainge, LaSalle Thompson, NBA TV, there was a feel and a flavor to it that made the night special. When Alex Ajinca went up for the opening tip, the place never got quiet. They harassed Armor free throw shooters. People sitting behind me were pointing out the basketball celebrities in attendance and waxing poetic over the 86 Celtics and lamenting the heartbreaks of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis.
"There's a big fan base here in Portland," said Red Claws center Alex Ajinca, who started the year in Charlotte. "It was the best crowd I have seen all year."
Even the senior Ainge, who was hit in the face by one autograph seeking fan's dreadlocks, looked like he was having fun.
"I had a great time out there," said Ainge later (it probably helped that the Celtics hammered Oklahoma City).
Said Erick Chapman, the former VP of Operations for the CBA put it,"They did this right. They put this team in an arena that is perfect for this type of basketball. They aren't trying to be an NBA team, they are trying to be a D-League team connected to it's community."
From fans getting on the Armor's Adam Harrington, who had more time talking to the refs than he did scoring, people saying Dee Brown should put his arm over his eyes so he didn't have to watch his team (in homage to his no-look dunk from 1991), it was the place to be in Portland last night. If last night was any indication, this won't be the last time the Red Claws have a night to remember at the Expo.