Monday, June 29, 2009 Updated: July 1, 11:39 AM ET
Ultimate Standings 2009: No. 25
By Andy Kamenetzky ESPN The Magazine
Last Year's Rank: 30 Title Track: 40 Ownership: 24 Coaching: 31 Players: 11 Fan Relations: 7 Affordability: 54 Stadium Experience: 28 Bang for the Buck: 71
Underachieving Jail Blazers teams may have reached distant memory status, but even after assembling a talented crew of seriously likable youngsters, Portland's brass still makes sure the connection between roster and fans remain intact. Last season, an injured Greg Oden helped launch T-shirts into the crowd. This year, before games the starters also gave fans tees (a perfect match for a $10 lid, tied for the cheapest in the NBA). There's also the recently launched Make It Better campaign, marking a commitment beyond the court. Recently, Nathan Vredevelt, a young fan with Down syndrome, was struck by a car in the street when he wandered off during a game. His family did not have medical insurance for his care, so the Blazers called for donations -- $21,000 was raised -- and pledged $10,000 on top of that. In the end, the team and the community raised $41,000. Unfortunately, Vredevelt died four days after the accident. But the tragedy -- and the response -- reflects the strengthened bond between franchise and city. "That kind of thing is what the team, fans and community would like to stand for," said Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge. "It's a far cry from a few years ago."