Outlaw on the Loose!
Travis Outlaw took the road less traveled.
by Adam Fleischer
If you’ve seen any of the game-winning shots or ferocious dunks that Portland Trail Blazer Travis Outlaw has been adding to his resume over the last few seasons, you may have noticed that, regardless of the magnitude of his late game heroics or the level of posterization, Outlaw typically reacts with nothing more than a hop and a jog down court—maybe with an understated scream somewhere in the mix. This is not for lack of thrill surrounding what he’s just accomplished. It’s just the way that the soft-spoken Mississippi native has continued to carry himself during his six-year ride through the pros.
Now a key contributor on a youthful, talented and bandwagon-breeding Portland team, Outlaw wasn’t always bringing Blazer fans to their feet. “When I first came in the League, Portland said that I was gonna be just a project, so my plan was that I wanted to continue to get better,” recalls the 6-9 Outlaw.
Both parties made good on their plans, as the lengthy forward put in hard work while the Blazers treated him like the project they had promised in the early going. Appearing in just eight games as a rookie on a veteran-dominated Trail Blazer team, Outlaw didn’t let his lack of playing time nor his teammates’ less than ideal rep as “Jailblazers” interfere with his goal of improving to a point where he’d see action on the floor.
“I had some great vets that were pushing me [back then], and it turned out pretty good,” he admits, thinking back to teams early in his career that included Dale Davis, Damon Stoudamire and Rasheed Wallace, as well as fellow youngsters Zach Randolph and Darius Miles. Like Miles, Outlaw made the jump from high school to the NBA, becoming the first of three consecutive Blazer first round picks selected weeks after high school graduation, with Sebastian Telfair and Martell Webster joining him in 2004 and 2005, respectively.
Neither a bust like ’03 Draft classmate Ndudi Ebi, nor a solidified superstar like LeBron James, Outlaw is an example of a kid who needed—and was given—some time to develop before he was able or asked to contribute. Having benefited from the chance to test the NBA waters right after high school, he, like many other players, isn’t the biggest fan of the age rule. “I don’t too much like it” he says in a thoughtful and honest tone. “You can have special cases where a kid is good enough to come out of high school, and I think he should have the opportunity. They shouldn’t make that choice for him whether he should go pro or to college.”
Seemingly one of the last of those special cases, the 24-year-old had the luxury of family support to help guide him during what can be tough times in the early going. “He made it a lot easier,” recalls Travis of his older brother John’s role in his transition from high school kid to workingman with real world responsibilities. “He was always there for me—anything I needed he would go get it. He’s kind of like my personal assistant,” he adds, only half jokingly, with a chuckle. He even wears John’s high school number, 25, as he’s done since his own freshman year.
And, although he’s come a long way since those early days, Outlaw understands the work isn’t done. Continuing with a tradition that began the summer after his rookie campaign, Travis headed back home to Starkville, MS this off-season to be with family and work on his game. “I went back to basic things to make scoring easier,” he reveals, hoping to build on an already versatile offensive repertoire that allows him to play at either forward spot. “Working on quick moves where it doesn’t take that much energy to score,” he elaborates. “Sealing your defender on the block and spinning off. Just making quick attacks.” His ability to swiftly make a decision and act on it has proven crucial in many late game situations, when Outlaw seems to be just as trusted by the coaching staff to have the ball in his hands as All-Star Brandon Roy.
Roy, like Outlaw and many others on Portland’s roster, is young, gifted and capable of playing multiple positions. An undoubted luxury for the organization, the clutter of talent could potentially prove tough for certain players. After a ‘07-08 season in which Outlaw was the team’s third leading scorer while coming off the bench, he remained in the same role this past year and saw rookie Nicolas Batum snag the starting 3 spot. When asked if it’s difficult to fight for playing time on such a deep squad, the former McDonald’s All-American doesn’t have to think twice. “Most definitely,” he quickly retorts, before acknowledging “there are enough guys where you can get rest, too, which is good.” Outlaw, who earned the fourth most minutes per game on the squad, often provides that rest.
But the off-season couldn’t be all work for a guy who loves going home. “We play Playstation 3 down here. I mostly play basketball and boxing games. But they won’t let you use the buttons no more, you can only use the analog!” he explains in disappointment about the recently released Fight Night 4. Something that you would think would take a little less time getting used to would be playing in a basketball game as yourself—you know your own game and its strengths and weaknesses. But that’s a situation Travis rarely puts himself in. “My brother plays as me. I can’t play, cause I get carried away making me score,” he discloses with a smile that you can hear. “I try to get crazy numbers when I play as myself.”
The Blazers, who just picked up the option on Outlaw’s contract for the upcoming season, probably wouldn’t mind video game type stat lines from their longest-tenured player. But that’s not what they’re asking. Instead, they need his continued dedication and contribution if they hope to continue to build upon last season’s 54-28 record.
“We got a little taste of the playoffs,” he says with a mix of disappointment and enthusiasm. “I think we’re gonna come back during the regular season and play with a lot of confidence and be ready for the Playoffs.”