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The NBA franchise that even Nike’s big bucks can’t buy

Nike founder Phil Knight has been trying to take over the Trail Blazers - without success. Fans fear for the team’s future in Portland.

Nike founder Phil Knight has been trying to take over the Trail Blazers - without success. Fans fear for the team’s future in Portland.
Steve DykesUSA TODAY Sports

There is a lot of movement surrounding the Portland Trail Blazers, who find themselves at a tricky sports crossroads in which they have to decide where to go with Damian Lillard. Everything indicates that the point guard will continue, but both parties are less and less clear about their relationship after a season that ended in disaster with a tanking finale (33-49) and from which the Oregon franchise has come out with the number 3 pick of the next draft.

Lillard does not want the team to undergo more reconstructions or bring in more young starlets, so it makes sense for the Blazers to squeeze their options of obtaining a truly differential player with a transfer of their pick. Some, however, are open about the fact that the Lillard era (32 years old, signed when the franchise was eleven) could be over and that the best thing to do would be to trade the point guard in a mega-operation which would raise the funds required for a new project. That, in turn could hopefully revitalize a franchise that hasn’t reached the NBA Finals since 1992.

Initial offer rejected

But Portland’s problems don’t end with the sporting side - Jody Allen, the owner since her brother Paul passed away from cancer in 2018, does not want to sell the franchise - something that really, she should do to fulfill Paul’s wishes. The Microsoft co-founder took over the Blazers in 1988 and was also the owner of the Seattle Seahawks, in the NFL. There is a major contender to take over the team: Phil Knight, founder and CEO of Nike (whose headquarters is also in Oregon). Knight and Alan Smolinsky, whose fortune comes from real estate, made Allen an offer of about $2 billion more than a year ago, which was immediately rejected.

Now, an article in the Wall Street Journal has revealed that Knight and Smolinsky are looking for new ways to convince Allen. They would have told her that they are aware that franchise prices are skyrocketing (the Suns have just been sold for about 4,000 million) and that they would be willing to adapt their offer. That is, to raise it significantly. But so far, the answer has been the same - not for sale. Jody Allen has not been answering Knight’s phonecalls and nor did she reply to a handwritten letter written by Smolinsky, who sought to bring positions closer. The response was an email from a company account that stressed that Paul Allen’s team “is not for sale.” And regarding her brother’s desire to sell, the answer is always that no deadlines were set. Jody Allen has also suggested that negotiating a deal could be a very lengthy, drawn-out process: “Such complex assets sometimes take twenty years to transfer”.

The fans, meanwhile, are concerned. In 2025 the original agreement to operate the Moda Center, one of the oldest, unremodeled sports arenas in the NBA, will come to an end. Such a situation is always a point of conflict between the cities and the teams, or usually is, especially when dealing with renovations, reforms or new constructions.

Basically, it’s a case of who pays for the party? A problem that has led to the transfer of historical franchises, as they saw in Portland with the neighboring Supersonics, now the OKC Thunder.

Many fans would like Knight to take the reins because he was born in Portland and plans to make sure the Blazers never move from the state of Oregon. In addition, his group sells the idea that they will invest to make the Blazers a serious contender for the title in the most sustained way possible. They also plan to reform the arena and the surroundings (Smolinsky’s task) with the idea of transforming the game experience for fans. But for now, Allen doesn’t seem to be interested in selling and is only thinking “of having competitive teams that aspire to the ring” - the Blazers and the Seahawks...


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