At the City Club's Friday Forum today, Trail Blazers President Larry Miller and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson joined hands to proclaim Portland a “Sports City.”
“I knew Portland was a sports city from the time I got here [15 years ago],” said Miller, who later referred to Blazers owner Paul Allen as “somewhat reclusive.”
Paulson, who moved to Portland from New York 7 months ago, added: “If I didn't believe Portland was an unbelievable sports city, I wouldn't be here.”
Stressing Portland's role as a “unique” sports city—“less corporate,” “affordable,” “involved in the community”—both Miller and Paulson sounded a bit like George Bush talking about Iraq: very confident, but very euphemistic. And Oregonian moderator Steve Duin's mild prodding didn't help to pull them from their pods. (Besides a consensus that “Boston, New York and L.A. are sports cities,” the concept was left undefined).
Although there is only one really professional sports team in town, the Blazers—a fact that both panelists attributed primarily to the lack of public funding—one City Club Member suggested that what makes Portland a sports city is Portlanders' affinity for alternative sports, like biking. Miller and Paulson, who were in agreement with one another on all points, readily agreed. Still, they insisted that professional sports teams could thrive here.
When I told Miller afterwards that I did not think Portland qualified as a “sports city” and that many of the newcomers to town preferred arts to sports, he replied: “You're right. More artistic types are coming in; but more sports types are moving in too.”
If anyone is to blame for the absence of say, a Major League Baseball team, Miller and Paulson implied, it is the government. It would cost about $600 million to bring one to town, said Paulson, and the funds just aren't there.
“Using some element of public money [for sports] isn't a new concept,” he explained, responding to claims that the city is uninterested in funding new and larger venues. “It goes back to ancient Greece and Rome.”
“There would be a significant return on that investment,” added Miller, who did not think having a baseball team would interfere with the Blazers' popularity.
But for the Blazers to keep selling out, they've got to keep winning, and that may be what distinguishes Portland from sports cities like Boston.
Still, their future looks bright. Greg Oden—whom Miller says he and his fellow Blazers administrators “unanimously” decided to draft without Paul Allen's help—is on the mend. And if the Blazers keep up their “community involvement”—they've established an umbrella organization called "Make It Better" and are currently working to repair all of the basketball courts in Portland's public high schools—this could become a sports city after all.