November 10, 2023 

Locked On Women’s Basketball: Is WNBA expansion in jeopardy? The Portland Problem, Part 1

'Portland [would've been] a logical fit'

On Friday’s episode of Locked On Women’s Basketball, host Jackie Powell is joined by Sean Highkin, longtime NBA reporter and author of The Rose Garden Report, to discuss Portland’s now-deferred WNBA expansion bid. Earlier this week, it was abruptly announced that a second WNBA expansion team to go along with Golden State would not be coming out of Portland.

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The conversation began with background on Portland’s history in the WNBA. Highkin has been following Portland’s interest in a WNBA team since February, and spoke about how the city had acquired its first WNBA team, the Portland Fire, in 2000 (astute readers will also recognize its ABL predecessor, the Portland Power).

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“At the time, [The Fire] had more than 8,000 fans a game, which was one of the best in the league,” Highkin explained. “But this was during the time when … at the beginning of the WNBA is existence, the teams weren’t owned by individual owners, they were all owned by the legal office. And they were assigned [as] sister franchises with NBA teams. And so the Portland fire were assigned to the Blazers … and then in 2002, the league voted to revert ownership of the individual teams back to the NBA franchises that they were tied to in their markets … and [then-Blazers owner Paul Allen] decided at the time [to fold the team] because the Blazers also weren’t doing very well financially at the time … It wasn’t because of a lack of fan interest.”

Highkin also gave context on Portland’s growing enthusiasm for women’s sports, including their support of the NWSL’s Portland Thorns, as well as for basketball broadly, with both Oregan and Oregan State hosting popular men’s and women’s teams.

“So there’s been a thought that, now that the WNBA might be looking at expansion again, that Portland [would’ve been] a logical fit, because the fan interest is there. The Blazers are very popular here, it’s a big basketball city. The Blazers own the arena, and so there’s a place they could play in the summer. And it was just a matter of was there an ownership group willing to step up, pay the expansion fee and put the money into it to make it successful,” Highkin continued.

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Jackie and Sean also spoke about the increasing excitement around the possibility of a WNBA team in Portland, as well as recent updates to the Blazers’ arena, the Moda Center. They also touched on the many potential owners that the team could have had, the value of a good team name, conflicts of interest, and much more.

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