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Bring WNBA to Eugene

June 12th, 2022 by dk

The Oregonian and The Athletic reported this week that Portland made the short list of possible expansion cities for the WNBA, along with Oakland, Nashville, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Toronto. I say Portland had its chance 20 years ago. Bring the WNBA to Eugene, where Phil Knight can buy a professional basketball team for a dime on the dollar.

Knight has already built an arena here that is just the right size. Kelly Graves has built our appetite for women’s basketball. Sabrina Ionescu is building her career as a superstar. Eugene deserves the chance these come together.

The Fire lasted only three years in Portland. In 2002, the NBA sold the league to local franchise owners, but Portland couldn’t find a buyer so the team folded.

Portland has become a bigger city since then, but with smaller ambitions. To many, it has become an angry, dirty place where the future doesn’t look so bright. Housing prices, traffic, homelessness, and a dysfunctional government has nipped at the city’s heels for decades. Now those problems are dividing and dilapidating the city.

Eugene, on the other hand, is finding its moment in the sun. Hayward Field has achieved pilgrimage status. The riverfront finally welcomes residents. The Park Blocks are anchoring an urban renaissance. Housing costs are high, except when compared with anywhere else. And traffic congestion is limited to a few hot spots for certain hours.

In other words, Eugene is feeling a lot like Portland did a few decades ago — on the rise, hopeful, coming into its own. A professional sports franchise with a national following in Eugene? It feels too soon — which is to say, just right. Ambition is always dressed for tomorrow, not for today.

In related news, Phil Knight reportedly made an unsolicited offer to buy the Portland Trailblazers for $2 billion, but was rebuffed by the current owners. “An offer was made by Phil Knight,” the Blazers said in the statement. “The team remains not for sale.”

Purchasing a WNBA franchise for Eugene would cost Uncle Phil a lot less, leaving plenty of money for another expansion around Matthew Knight Arena, complete with a rooftop helipad for one certain commuter.

Matthew Knight Arena has a seating capacity of 12,364. The Seattle Storm leads the WNBA in attendance at 10,553 per game. (None of the other 11 teams in the league average 7,000.) The Oregon Ducks for Ionescu’s final season averaged 10,852.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” Graves told the Oregonian. “There’s an appreciation of women’s sports in the Northwest. A lot of people are aware of women’s basketball and love it in this area.”

The Blazers issued a supportive statement: “We embrace anyone whose mission is to grow basketball in our region…. Oregon has a great track record of embracing and promoting women’s sports in an authentic and meaningful way, and it is no surprise to us that there may be interest in bringing a WNBA team to the market.”

“Oregon has a great track record” — those words sound like code to me. Thousands of Track & Field fans will be forced to commute from Portland during Oregon22 next month, because there aren’t enough hotel rooms for all the fans who plan to attend. Eugene solved that dilemma by embracing a statewide focus for the event.

We forget that we’re a smallish state. Eugene is close to the center of its populated areas. Fans may complain about having to drive two hours to see their favorite team, forgetting that it can take just as long to get to New York from New Jersey.

Oregon’s best home for a new WNBA franchise is right here in Eugene. We’re dressed for tomorrow.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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