Usually at this time of year, I engage in a lively debate with fellow columnist Mike Downey, who is a wonderful guy in every way except that he lives and works in Los Angeles, which makes him a ninny.

And so we have this great heated exchange, in which I say why the Detroit Pistons will beat the LA Lakers in the NBA Finals, and he says something and dribbles down his shirt. The first time we did this, his Lakers won. The second time, the Pistons won. So naturally, I was all prepared to tell him why Detroit would take the rubber game of this rivalry, and lo and behold, speaking of rubber, the Lakers got bounced.

And we are left with . . .

Portland.

Well. First of all, Mike, and I know you’re listening, I want to say that was a dirty trick, chickening out, just because you knew you would lose in the end. I mean, your Lakers could have at least put up a little better act. Second- round elimination? Four games to one? Even Hollywood would reject that script, and this is the town that gave us “Gremlins, Part II.”

Secondly, I don’t want to hear that you arranged for vacation over the next few weeks because, as you tinsel folk say, “We don’t do Portland.” I know

Jack Nicholson doesn’t do Portland. I don’t think Jack Klugman does Portland. But you must, and I must, and thanks a lot, dude.

Personally, I was hoping for a return to LA because there is nothing better than watching a building full of self- bloated beautiful people run for the exits as soon as their team falls behind by eight points. But I will have to accept my loss, just as the Lakers accepted theirs, and the Bulls accepted theirs, and now, the Trail Blazers will have to accept theirs, four losses, I reckon, and then the Pistons will let them go back to their fir trees.

By the way, I was speaking Oregonese right there: “I reckon.” I’ve been practicing. Listen:

TIMBER!

Anyhow. Being a man of tradition, I am not going to let a little thing like LOSING IN THE SECOND ROUND HA-HA I CAN’T BELIEVE IT spoil our fun. Never mind that the fans in LA wear sunglasses and the fans in Portland wear sawmill goggles. A debate is a debate. All you need is an opponent. Unfortunately, I could not find one in Oregon because, when I called, they were all at the Beaver festival. And I didn’t even want to ask what that was.

So I will do what we are good at here in Detroit: I will make the best of things. I will create an opponent, one worthy of the great tradition of the LA-Detroit debate — except I will leave off the beard and the drooling that we usually got with Mike, because, well, we never really liked that.

I will call him Mr. Portland.

Hello, Mr. Portland.

MR. PORTLAND: Hello.

See? It works. Mr. Portland, let me start by saying one thing: Your team is overmatched, under-experienced, and in for a terrible humiliation at the hands of the Pistons, and if I were you, I’d take the first flight back to the Beaver festival.

MR. PORTLAND: OK.

Well. As you can see, people in Oregon are not used to great debates, because the only thing they argue over is who goes to the shed for more wood. But please, Mr. Portland. These are the NBA Finals. Show some spunk. By the way, who will you be bringing for the celebrity seats?

MR. PORTLAND: Huh?

The celebrity seats. You know, where Jack and Warren and Dyan watch the game. Don’t you have any celebrities? Don’t you have any Jacks? Besides lumber?

MR. PORTLAND: Huh?

Never mind. We’ll sell those tickets. Now then, your designated kisser? Who is he, please?

MR. PORTLAND: Huh?

Your designated kisser. We can’t have Isiah kiss Magic again. Magic’s not playing. People might start to get ideas.

MR. PORTLAND: Huh?

Well, my Northwest noodnik, I can see by the blank look on your face that you have no designated kisser, and you are clearly on prescription medication. Must be the cold and flu season back in Oregon. It only rains there, what, 11 months a year?

Never mind. Lets talk hoop. Bang! Oooh, pardon us. Boong! Oooh, sorry. Buumph! Excuuuuuse us. This is what we call Eastern basketball. Ahem. Mr. Portland, meet Mr. Laimbeer, Mr. Edwards, Mr. Salley and Mr. Rodman. They’re standing pretty close, huh? We like to get close to our neighbors. And then knock them around. The Pistons are defensive, which some fans find offensive, but I’m sure your fans won’t, because most of them will be too busy driving down our highways saying, “Wow! Look at all these buildings!”

Clyde Drexler? We’re supposed to be scared of Clyde Drexler? Hey. Take a look at Joe Dumars. See those bristles in his hand? That is Michael Jordan’s scalp. OK, so he’s losing his hair. The point is, Dumars just finished clamping the best player on the planet, and you want him to worry about someone named Clyde The Glide? Sorry. Our rule is, if Spike Lee doesn’t use him, we don’t worry about him.

Which holds for the rest of your squad as well: Kersey, Porter, Duckworth and Williams. Sounds like a law firm. Your coach, however, is a different story. Your coach fascinates me. With that little stick-on mustache and those polyester suits? I have been looking at Rick Adelman for a long time now, and I have only one question: What shoe store does he work in?

Mr. Portland? Are you there?

MR. PORTLAND: Huh?

Listen. I wouldn’t worry about those CBS executives who jumped out the window once LA was eliminated. I’m sure they’ll come around to see your good points and give you at least 30 to 40 and maybe even 50 seconds of airtime. And the Pistons have been known lately to be kind on the road, and might even let you win a couple in front of your home fans so they can go on with their joyous celebration, which, from what I’ve read, consists of running around town yelling, “RIP CITY!” and then, I guess, what, chewing on some bark?

RIP? Hmm. Very appropriate. Rest In Peace, Mr. Portland. While you can. It will all be over soon, and you can go back and have a great time at the Beaver festival. OK?

MR. PORTLAND: Huh?

God, I miss Mike.

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