By John Hollinger
PORTLAND – Playoff series are supposed to bring out the worst in city vs. city rivalries, but in the case of Blazers vs. Suns we have a glaring exception to that rule.
Suns center Channing Frye grew up in Arizona, went to college there, and plays there now. Nonetheless, he might be the biggest civic ambassador for the city of Portland this side of Meriwether Lewis, and as the series shifts back to Portland he’s going to get some quality time at his adopted home.
Frye spent only two years in Portland while playing for the Blazers, but in that time went native more than any Blazer in memory. He married a Portland girl, kept his condo in Portland’s south waterfront district after signing with Phoenix, and will be back in town as soon as his season ends. His Suns teammates, in fact, joke that he won’t shut up about the place.
One of the few recent Blazers to live in the city rather in the suburbs near the team’s Tualatin practice facility, Frye was a constant sight around town in his time with the Blazers and frequently blogged about local restaurants.
Frye said he was amazed other players didn’t live in town. “You have to figure Portland’s not really that live of a city all the time,” said Frye, “so why not stay downtown? It’s easy, ten minutes to [Tualatin].”
My own brief inquiry into his favorite eating spots elicited an extensive, eclectic and geographically varied list. His first name, a Thai place called Pok Pok, is a well-known landmark, but his second choice blew me away – a tiny, funky, greasy spoon diner called Stepping Stone Café, on a residential street in Northwest Portland a few blocks from where I used to live. With a sign in the window that says “Beware of Attack Waitress,” it's not the type of place one expects to bump into NBA millionaires.
Frye realizes his preference for the Rose City makes him an oddity among players, including his Phoenix teammates. This is Portland, after all, not New York or Miami, and its charms aren’t as readily apparent.
Or, as, Frye put it, “They all think Portland sucks.”
Indeed, a brief survey of his teammates turned up few positive rejoinders. I chatted up avid cyclist Louis Amundson – famed for his former habit of arriving by bike at US Airways Center (he lives too far away to do it now) – about Portland’s reputation as the nation’s top biking city, but once I mentioned the nine months of gray weather he quickly lost interest.
Teammate Jared Dudley wasn’t buying in either. I asked if Frye would be showing him Portland’s sights during the three days they’d spend in Oregon. “He'll probably want to,” said Dudley. “I won't go with him.”
For that matter, Frye says we shouldn’t expect to see him out on the town too much over the next few days. He said he’ll see a few friends and visit a favorite big-and-tall shoe store, but otherwise chill out in his hotel room.
“This is really kind of a business trip,” he said. “I’ll be back in June.”