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Oregon Trailblazers

February 28th, 2006 by dk

Paul Allen is beginning to tire of his Portland Trailblazers. Eugene and the University of Oregon, with the help of another billionaire, is hoping to build a world-class basketball arena in the next few years. Several mid-sized cities across the state, including Eugene, are in a mad dash to improve their convention facilities. It has become well known that the Oregon Mystique still can pull expense accounts from across the country for a few days at a time, and there’s reason for some of them to get out of Portland once in a while.

Eugene has established itself as a central sports location for the state. This year’s football game against USC put more sports fans in one structure than any event in the history of the state. 65,000 people made the trip, whether it was a long drive up or down I-5 or a long walk through Alton Baker Park.

With a rejuvenated Hayward Field hosting the upcoming Olympic Trials, Eugene needn’t take a back bleacher to any city in the state for sports. If Microsoft cofounder Allen wants to “shake things up” for the Trailblazers, he should give a little thought to bringing the team 100 miles south.

Eugene is far too small a town for a major league basketball team, until you consider that Green Bay, Wisconsin has fewer people than Eugene. Green Bay got an NFL team almost a century ago, but nobody has ever regretted that smallish town, draped in green and gold. It’s easy to get to, so it doesn’t have to be big.

Losing the Trailblazers will hurt Portland’s pride more than its pocketbook. So here’s the deal. Nobody ever said a basketball team had to have only one home court. If the Portland Trailblazers were reinvented as the Oregon Trailblazers, they could continue to play some games in Portland, but also in Eugene, and maybe a third city in Oregon.

Portland would wake up to the comfort that half a pro team is better than none. Besides, hoards of Portlanders will privately welcome a reason to drive south to the town where they spent their salad days.

We’re a smallish state in western America. Nobody in Oregon thinks twice about a three-hour drive to get to something good. If an NBA basketball team wanted to spread itself out across the state, Oregonians would welcome them. Thousands of fans who wouldn’t venture into the big city of Portland would gladly trek into Eugene or Bend or Medford.

If several towns wanted to host the state’s NBA team, what would be so wrong with that? The team would of course require minimum standards. The players are professionals and they have grown accustomed to certain amenities. They won’t be performing on a double bill with Donkey Basketball at the Elmira High School gymnasium.

But the timing is good. Phil Knight and Dave Frohnmayer and Ernie Kent want to build a first-class arena for the Ducks. A dozen home games isn’t quite a full schedule for a facility that will cost nearly $200 million. Add a couple dozen more professional games each year, and maybe things start to pencil out.

If any Portland athletes have concerns about playing here in Podunk, give them a quick tour of the locker room at Autzen. They’ll change their tune soon enough.

The architects for the new Eugene arena hope to mimic the structure and intimacy of Mac Court, and nobody has dared to suggest that the venerable Mac Court be mothballed altogether. If the designers succeed in their plans, we’ll have two Mac Courts. Big Mac will have better restrooms and concession stands, but for team practices, one Mac should serve as well as the other. Two Macs, no waiting.

If Oregon’s two most competitive billionaires sat down to discuss the fate of the Portland Trailblazers, they might figure out a way to do something in Oregon that’s never been tried elsewhere. It wouldn’t be the first time. Shouldn’t we expect no less from a team called Trailblazers?

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