Thursday, May 11, 2006

Position by Position--Owner

How weird is it that we even have to talk about the owner as a major factor this year? That in itself tells you that something is waaaay wrong in Blazerland.

I may be in the minority, but I find it hard to ride on the owner-hater bandwagon. I don't like what's happened any more than the next fan, but it seemed like the rise in personal criticism coincided with the team's ill fortunes. That makes me suspicious of it. If the team were 60-22 would he suddenly be a benevolent, eccentric genius again?

Somehow I can't buy into the idea that Paul Allen is a fool or an incompetent businessman. How many billions does the guy have? I mean, I can see backing into few thousand, and Regis will hand you a million bucks if you know the capitol of Uzbekistan and Greg Brady's middle name, but by the time you hit a hundred million or so I figure you have to know what you're doing. If he's so dumb, we poor schleps must be downright idiotic. Sure he may have speculated in frivolous areas, but what else is $20 billion for? At some point the figure becomes surreal and you're just playing with your money even if you're doing business. That doesn't make you stupid, just obnoxiously rich.

I also have not forgotten that for more than a decade Allen was considered one of the best owners in the league, if not in all of sport. Building the Rose Garden, paying out for a run at the rings, sitting front row for most of the games...the guy was gold in this town.

Nor do I fault Paul Allen for running the team like a business. That's what it is. But I do wonder, why now? The team had to have been losing money for years. Why turn off the faucet when it's at its lowest point, both in talent and public perception? If Allen had made these claims in 2000, chances are he could have gotten something done. As it is, it looks like he's a child who has lost interest in a toy that's not as entertaining anymore. Perception or reality, that's a bitter pill to swallow for those who live and die with the team.

Speaking of perception...people often complain that Allen is detached and aloof. He's never been a comfortable public figure. That's fine with me. An owner shouldn't be the public face of the team anyway. (*cough, cough* Mark Cuban) I've never perceived the detachment as some have: intentional callousness or a matter of physical proximity. It's a lifestyle gap, pure and simple. If you had that much money from the time you were 25, you wouldn't have a clue how the real world works either. Nor would you be a great communicator with those of us who do. We loved his lifestyle when it was buying us Western Conference Championship appearances. It seems a little hypocritical to wish it were different now.

Despite all of this, there's plenty to call Allen to account for. The biggest issue is that even if he was playing with his money, it still affected real people with real lives. To small-time vendors, team employees, and all kinds of other folks with families to feed, this wasn't a hobby. He has every right to decide how his money is spent, but you can sympathize with the folks who get caught in the aftermath of his changing opinions.

Allen has also displayed a sense of timing so bad as to border on the unbelievable. You could see it in the progression of the team, but it came out even stronger through public relations moves that would have made Marie Antoinette blush. After four years of declining records and waning attendance, after the most embarrassing run of off-court player behavior from any team in any sport in history, in the midst of an economic bust that turned the state into the Mississippi of the West (sorry y'all) with people filling unemployment lines and fighting about which schools to close, how do you ask for public assistance for a professional sports team owned by the fifth richest man in the world? It's the equivalent of that seldom-bathing, booger-eating guy in physics class asking the head cheerleader out for a her grandmother's funeral. Saturday Night Live could not have come up with a sketch that equaled the simultaneous horror, irony, and incredulous amusement of that one act.

On top of all of this, there have been persistent rumors that the owner has meddled in player acquisitions and contract negotiations, muddling an already murky scene. This alone is enough to bring the ire of hardcore fans. Throw in the specter of bankruptcy and the team moving, and even the most ardent devotees have to throw up their hands in disgust.

For these reasons most everyone will be happy if Paul Allen is in his last days as owner. Whether that will actually happen remains to be seen. Assuming it's so, I would say this to Mr. Allen:

"First, thank you for all of the good years. It's been rough at the end but we'd be ungrateful to forget the beginning. And second, thank you for being a fan all of those years, which I truly believe you were. I don't begrudge you the right to run the Blazers like a business, nor to make smart decisions with your money. But I would also like to tell you that to so many of us--the kids who grew up wearing black and red as they shot at backyard hoops, the retirees that filled the top rows of your arenas year in and year out, the blue collar guys, the office workers, and all of the men and women who poured their heart into the team--it wasn't a business. It was a passion.

"To us who remember those days, the Blazers are one of our natural resources...something that defines our home much like Mount Hood or the Oregon coast. Whenever we used to visit one of those places when I was a kid, my dad would always tell me one thing: leave it as good as you found it so somebody else can enjoy it too. It was good advice. I know it's a business, and I know you've already done a lot, but if you could do that one thing--if not with the players or with the record, at least with the arena, the guarantee that the team would be here, and a glimmer of new direction on the court--you would leave us something worth remembering."

And, in the words of the immortal Forrest Gump...that's all I have to say about that.

More posts at the Main Page (if you aren't there already).

--Dave (


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10:43 AM  

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