PORTLAND — The lights came back up on the Maine Red Claws on Friday night, a year after Portland’s new pro basketball team won over the city.

Strobes darted into the night sky. Close to 3,000 fans packed the Portland Expo. Crusher the mascot made the first dunk of his crustacean career off a trampoline at halftime.

The home team lost 103-97 to visiting Austin. But basketball came back to the Expo for season two. The first game and the first sellout of the season. And that was fine for most.

“It’s just so great,” said Marie Bourque-Namer, 59, a season-ticket holder who sat high atop Section 3 in her glory. She was dressed in bright Red Claws red, a temporary lobster tattoo on her left cheekbone, her daughter and two grandkids beside her.

If the NBA Development League team had an official booster club, she might be the president. She prefers team grandmother.

“It’s more than just a seat. It’s kind of belonging to something,” said Danielle Namer, Marie’s daughter.
Bourque-Namer has a row of four seats, complete with coat hooks she installed on the wall behind her. She counts herself as the team’s biggest fan.

Bourque-Namer’s love for basketball started inside a sweaty Bulldog costume at Lawrence High School in Fairfield in 1969.

It continued when she was in college and worked as an office assistant to University of Maine men’s coach Skip Chappelle.

And it was reborn last winter with the Red Claws’ inaugural season.

She brings Danielle and grandkids Alex, 9, and Hailey, 7, to almost every game.

She reached out to Red Claws forward Eugene Spates on Facebook. Her grandkids still talk online with Alexis Ajinca, the Charlotte Bobcats prospect who spent part of last year in Portland.
It’s simply a way she feels alive again.

“You connect with other people who sit near you,” Bourque-Namer said.

“The thing I like the best is the players are not only amazing to watch on the court, but they treat my kids like gold,” Danielle Namer said. “I really wasn’t a huge basketball fan before this. Their love of the fans hooked me.”

Despite the loss, Friday’s experience was one the players say they are looking forward to again.
“The crowd was tremendous,” said forward Paul Harris, who scored a game-high 20 points. “I heard from people that this is a city that follows its sports. It showed today.”

Twenty-five kids from Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor were brimming with excitement to watch some hoops.

“I was really looking forward to watching a game again,” said Aaron Snurkowski, 11, who saw his first game last year.

His friend Devin Parlatore, a sixth-grader, had drawn in red marker on just about every classmate’s face. He thinks it’s washable ink.

“I’ve been wanting to play in the NBA since I was 6,” he declared. His height: 5-foot-nothing. He expects to grow to 6-foot-3.

The enthusiasm was music to the ears of general manager Jon Jennings, who walked around the building shaking hand after hand.

“We’re just so excited to be back,” Jennings said most fans told him. “They all said they just loved it last year.

“I was more nervous about this year,” he said. “There were high expectations. People want to be entertained. The place is full. Everyone is excited.”

Agreed, said Steve and Cindy Lerman, both 62, season-ticket holders for the second straight year.
“What’s not to love?” said Steve Lerman. “I was psyched all day to come here. I couldn’t wait.”

Said his wife: “We just loved it last year. We love our seats. We love the whole atmosphere.”

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez  can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

[email protected]

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