Friday, February 24, 2006

What would Portland be without the Blazers [and other thoughts about Moscow on the Willemette]

If you live here in the Pacific Northwest, you have already heard this, or if you are in other parts of the country this news may have shown up in the sports section-way below a listing for 'Pitchers and Catchers have reported for Spring Training', there is trouble right here in 'Rip City'. That begins with 'T' that rhymes with 'P' that stands for 'Paul' [With apologies to Meredith Wilson, who wrote 'The Music Man']. As in Paul Allen, member of the multimillionaire boys club who owns the Portland Trailblazers has said the team is in serious trouble and drastic measures may need to be taken.

Apparently, Allen and his minions could not work the same voodoo they have with the Seattle Seahawks and as a result, the team is on course to lose $100 million dollars over the next 3 years. Yes, dear readers you read that right...100 million. This on top of the fact that the team has not played well over the past few years; in playoff years have not made it out of the first round since Garfield's animated version was cancelled by CBS and has drafted, signed and traded for players who would be better suited to playing in the cages over at Riker's Island or Leavenworth [J.R. Rider anyone?]. Oh yeah, I forgot, they also no longer own or control the arena they play in, the Rose Garden that Paul built as a place to showcase the team as well as other events.

So what does the co-founder of the evil empire, I mean Microsoft do to try to dig himself out of this? Well, he does what every other sports team owner does when they feel they are behind the 8-ball, he asks the city for a bailout. Otherwise known as corporate welfare, the Blazers are asking that the city give them money to cover their losses while they [paraphrasing here] 'work their way back to a winning team and have the fan support that they have gotten in the past'. However that support they want to get is waning for various reasons.

Not too long ago, they would sell out their games in the old Memorial Colisseum - to the tune of 12,566 [give or take a few] for each home contest. The team played an aggressive and fun mix of basketball that got the fans and the city interested. Even though they had only 1 NBA championship to show for all of this over the years, they at least had their loyal fans [think of those in Green Bay who come out even when the Packers have stunk up the joint] who would show no matter what. But the love affair with the team has grown cold. The first few years with the new arena, they still had the sellouts, but those were on paper. As in the numbers were padded so that while the boxscore would show 20,122 [again give or take] the tapes that would show that quite a few folks came dressed as empty seats. Along with the players who would get the Sing-Sing 'least likely to go straight' award, the fan base while not on life support is getting there.

With all this said, there is a real possibility the team may move and the usual suspects for relocation are: Las Vegas, Kansas City, Mo, Baltimore [they at one time had the Baltimore Bullets, soon to be the Washington Wizards], Tampa-St. Petersburg and St. Louis. Should that day of the U-hauls come to pass, what will Portland have to look at or pass the time in the way of spectator sports? The list includes:

1. The Portland Beavers - The AAA Pacific Coast League team of the San Diego Padres who play a pretty good game of baseball. PGE Park is not a bad place to see a game because it is small, intimate and one can hear the 'colorful metaphors' being used after a strikeout. The tickets are affordable so a family can spend a day at the ballpark and not worry about being taken to the cleaners.

2. The Portland Timbers - 'A' League soccer. Their fans tend to be a little like escapees from the soccer hooligan training asylum, but the Timbers do at least try to not have their games end up being draws like chess being played on grass [By the by my own preference for soccer teams is the Minnesota Thunder of the same league, having been to quite a few games when my former roomie and I lived in Minneapolis and their fans were more or less like a family. A strange twisted, extended group but a family none the less]

3. Portland State Football - Division 1-AA Big Sky Conference. They play the likes of Montana and Montana State and have hopes of maybe going to Division 1-A one day. Their crowds can be just as vocal as those in Eugene or Corvallis for the Ducks or [Oregon State] Beavers.

4. Portland Winter Hawks - WHL Junior League Hockey. If you have seen the tapes on the local news, these guys play the game like kids who want to make it to the big time. They are good kids besides, [they would never be confused with the Hanson Brothers -'Slapshot'] which explains why the Colisseum is called 'Hawkeytown' during the season.

Lest I forget, starting in January of 2007 [for 2 years], we have another sport coming to town. That being the rebuild of the downtown transit mall to have the MAX Light Rail run down the middle of 5th and 6th Avenues. Phone the neighbors, wake the oh my!!!! This will be oh so much fun, to see businesses leave town and have so many desolate storefronts that we will forget that we once had some overgrown children being paid an insane amount of money to shoot a little orange ball through a hoop. When completed, we will have a crisscross of trains, trolleys, relocated buslines and frustrated citizens who will be more upset with missing a connection for a meeting compared to missing the Blazers.

If the Blazers are truly on their last legs in this city, it may be sad to see them go, but it is sadder still to see what was once a proud franchise become a parody of their former glory. So much for the legacy in the hands of those who more often than not will phone it in as opposed to run it up and down for 48 minutes a night. Who knows, [should the clock strike midnight] maybe the NBA will deem this city worthy of another about 30 years.