Damian Lillard routinely goes coast-to-coast, but city-to-coast? Not yet.
You mean the man with unlimited range has never made it over … the Coast Range? It’s true.
The Portland Trail Blazers star regularly dons a superhero cape but knows not of capes Kiwanda, Lookout, Perpetua or Meares. He is revered for his end-of-game stones but, well, let’s just say there’s a place called Twin Rocks that he’s never seen.
“This is embarrassing,” Lillard admits, “but I haven’t been to the coast in all these years.”
Stop the presses!
The Blazers are 4-0 for the first time in 23 years, one of two undefeated teams in the entire NBA and Lillard was just named the Western Conference player of the week. But the real story?
Oregon’s most famous resident has never experienced one of the state’s most cherished treasures.
“That’s crazy,” said Dennis Awtrey.
The 74-year-old innkeeper was preparing granola for his guests Tuesday morning as rain fell over Manzanita. Awtry doesn’t follow the NBA much anymore, but he certainly knows who Damian Lillard is.
And he has a room for him at the Awtrey Inn if he wants it.
See, Awtrey played 733 games in the NBA himself. It was a 12-year career that took him from Philadelphia to Phoenix and Chicago. The 6-foot-10 center won a title with the Sonics in 1979. In 1981 he was 33 and trying to hang on in pro hoops. A stint in Italy didn’t pan out.
He returned home to Seattle and waited for the phone to ring. Three hours south, Portland won its first seven games but was quickly hammered by injuries.
“The Blazers had 10 guys active that had a total of 10 years in the NBA,” Awtrey recalled. “I had 11.”
He made his debut on Dec. 1 in Denver.
What? You don’t remember Dennis Awtrey?
“I’m not exactly a legend here, am I?” he joked.
Awtrey lasted 10 games with the Blazers, averaging a point and a half in 12.1 minutes for Jack Ramsay, who had been his first coach in Philadelphia. He was waived less than three weeks later so the team could sign 7-foot-2 rookie Pétur Guðmundsson.
And that would have been it for his time in Oregon.
Except two decades later, he and his now-wife Peggy drove the length of the Oregon coast on vacation. They stayed in Pacific City and watched the dory boats launch from the beach.
They drove north to Manzanita, the hamlet between Tillamook and Cannon Beach where artists mingle with loggers and which was recently named one of the 55 most beautiful small towns in America by Architectural Digest.
On Awtrey’s first visit, “the wind was whipping,” he said.
But Dennis and Peggy were awed by the seven miles of beach and vowed to return the next year. The couple had long dreamed of owning a bed and breakfast, and on their next visit they strolled neighborhoods and found an inn that was for sale.
Despite its peek-a-boo view of the Pacific, it was a no-go.
“If you were 6-10 you could see the ocean from the room,” he said, “but if you were 6-10 you couldn’t stand up in the kitchen.”
They tried yet again the next year, and were shown a lot 50 feet from up from the beach with an unobstructed panorama of sand, clear down the coast.
That was the view Awtrey took in Tuesday morning as he managed his chores at the two-bedroom Awtrey Inn.
“Right now as I’m talking to you, I’m looking down the coast to Cape Meares,” Awtrey said as his granola roasted. “All I see is waves and white water. It’s peaceful here.”
Lillard likely had no idea that he would spark a controversy with his revelation. His comment appeared during a prerecorded bit Monday night on the big screen at Moda Center during a first-half timeout. The game was either-or.
You know, steak or fish (“Fish”), horror or comedy (“Comedy”), sunrise or sunset (“Sunrise”). Then he was asked to choose between the Oregon coast and Multnomah Falls.
Ever heard 18,000 people gasp?
“Maybe I shouldn’t have said that,” Lillard later said, wryly.
As someone who grew up in a coastal town without a stop light, the kind of place where fog rests on meadows like a scene from “Brigadoon,” I have a responsibility to preserve local secrets. I know the skeptical eye locals cast at the notion of more Portlanders infiltrating our little communities.
For Lillard, however, an exception must be made.
He should toss a balsam glider plane off the top of the Astoria Column. It’s a grueling 164 steps to the lookout, but hasn’t Lillard said he will stop at nothing to get to the top?
He can recreate a scene from “The Goonies” at the Oregon Film Museum or grab a treasure map and hike Neahkahnie Mountain.
Light a campfire and roast s’mores in Oceanside. Jump off a rope swing into the Nestucca River. Head south and trace the footsteps of Steve Prefontaine in Coos Bay. Marvel at Devil’s Punchbowl and Thor’s Well.
He can rent a boat and go crabbing on Nehalem Bay. Boil his catch right there at the marina and enjoy a feast on a picnic table.
“Fresh Dungeness crab is pretty nice,” Awtrey said.
Dive for scallops off the Barview Jetty and saute them in butter and garlic over a propane stove on the back of a pickup truck.
He can ride dune buggies in Sandlake like Clifford Robinson used to do. Ride a road bike down 101 like Bill Walton.
He can walk for hours on the beach or fly kites with his kids in Lincoln City.
Whatever he wants to do, Awtrey’s B&B sounds like a pretty great starting point.
At night, he and Peggy leave their windows open so they can listen to the burbling of Pirate Spring passing near the property.
“You can fish, you can hike,” Awtrey said. “We’ve got deer going through our yard.”
On more than one occasion, they’ve spotted a bobcat.
“It’s something that I can’t believe how lucky we are to live here,” he said.
After moving in, Awtrey realized he lived a mile up the road from Bucky Buckwalter, the former Blazers assistant coach and executive.
Dr. Donald Roberts, the Blazers orthopedist, performed both of Awtrey’s knee replacements and exchanges elk and crab and salmon meat for Peggy’s black Manhattan cocktails when he visits.
“There’s plenty to do,” Awtrey said, “but it’s not Disneyland, that’s for sure.”
Lillard could sit with Awtrey and watch for whales. Two NBA players who blazed trails to the coast in their own time, in their own ways, enjoying the view.
It might even be enough to change Lillard’s mind about sunsets.
— Bill Oram | email@example.com | Twitter: @billoram