In the winter of 2004 the city of Portland appeared confident in its chances to land the financially strapped Montreal Expos. To some, it looked imminent that the Rose city would become home to a Major League Baseball team, in addition to its professional basketball franchise. Portland eventually lost out to Washington D.C. the current home of the Nationals and RFK stadium.
Now barely a year and a half later the Nationals are beginning their second season in D.C. and the NBA has pulled out of negotiations centered on the selling the Blazers and the Rose Garden in order to keep the team in town.
In the not-so-distant past things were as bright as they have ever been for professional sports in Portland. Over the last 10 years Portland came close to landing a professional baseball team, and close to an appearance in the 2000 NBA Finals. Now, just a few short years later, the Blazers are mired in problems both on and off the court.
Rebuilding a sports franchise is often a long and arduous process but the Blazers are headed in the right direction. The building blocks of being a quality NBA team are there. A tough-minded coach in Nate McMillan, a young and talented nucleus led by Steve Blake, Joel Pryzbilla and this year’s first round pick Martell Webster, as well as a high draft pick on the way – Adam Morrison anyone?
Everything on the court will work its self out with time; it is the situation off the court that is disconcerting. With the NBA pulling out of negotiations the prospect of seeing a return on the Blazers rebuilding plan looks very bleak. A positive note for Portland fans is that all major parties, Paul Allen, Rose Garden owners, as well as the NBA want to keep the Blazers in the Rose City. While frustration may be high negotiations will resume. However, if an agreement cannot be reached there are other teams Portland fans could cheer for.
Without professional baseball and football in Portland, Oregonians have reached out to our neighbors from the North and supported the Mariners and the Seahawks as if they were our own. The Mariners recent exhibition at PGE Park is a prime example – nearly 20,000 fans sat through a 45-minute rain delay to see the Mariners and Beavers play last week.
Is it possible that a Blazer-less Portland could embrace the Sonics? Led by the best shooter in the NBA, Ray Allen, as well as former Duck Luke Ridnour running the show at point guard, the Sonics have the makings of a team Oregonians could embrace. They play hard and value character, as Seattle recently traded away players who were far more concerned with their contract situations, than their on-court performance. Rose City streets could soon be filled by Oregonians sporting Sonics paraphernalia.
College athletics could also fill the void the Blazers would leave behind. In this year’s NCAA tournament mid-majors became increasingly relevant. George Mason’s magical Final Four run and Gonzaga’s ascent to the national elite has paved the way for smaller schools. The University of Portland as well as Portland State could take advantage of the Blazers’ departure by receiving larger crowds, more attention, more highly sought recruits and eventually more wins.
Fortunately life without the Blazers doesn’t have to become a reality. Allen and the NBA will continue to work toward an agreement that will keep professional basketball in Portland. A sale should keep the team in the city and the team should continue to grow on the court.
Sports help provide cities and states with their identities. I’ve never been to San Antonio but I will always remember the Alamo Dome. I don’t know much about North Carolina but I do know the University of North Carolina lies along Tobacco Road only eight miles from Duke University. There’s an enormous green monster in Boston, and a great Philly cheese steak can be found at Sixers’ games. Teams’ identities become forever linked to their homes. While professional baseball may never call Portland home, one must hope the Blazers always will, because right now, hope is one of the few things the Blazers have left.