Professional Sports in the Portland Metro Area
Sports fans who prefer to participate will find options in Portland for just about every sport they enjoy. With three nationally prominent professional team — Portland Trail Blazers, Portland Timbers, and the Portland Thorns — sports boosters agree that it’s not a big sports town for viewing sports events.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers entered the NBA in 1970 as an expansion team. Drafting Bill Walton in 1974 from UCLA led to an NBA championship in 1977. In 1988, billionaire Paul Allen (who along with Bill Gates was the founder of Microsoft) purchased the Blazers. Allen is the world’s 48th-richest person, according to Forbes. Allen is also the owner of the NFL Seattle Seahawks football team.
Portland has loyal Blazers fans which are noted for their energy. Starting on April 5 of 1977, the team began a sellout streak of 814 straight games—the longest in sports history. In the early to mid-2000s attendance was lower, and the years were not free of player incidents such as marijuana possession (three players were charged). During his tenure as coach (through ’04-’05), Maurice Cheeks had the distinct pleasure of coaching some of the more talented and dysfunctional NBA players ever to walk through the Rose Garden. Qyntel Woods pled guilty to first-degree animal abuse for staging dog fights in his house. Players such as Darius Miles, Rueben Patterson, Zach Randolph, and Sebastian Telfair were involved in either on-court bickering or off-court legal incidents. The team acquired a new name, the Portland “Jail Blazers.”
This is a team who passed up Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft and Kevin Durant in 2007. In 1984 the Blazers landed the number two pick in the NBA Draft. After the Houston Rockets had selected Clyde Drexler’s college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon, known at that time as Akeem Olajuwon, at number one, the Trail Blazers selected Kentucky center, Sam Bowie. Drafting third, the Chicago Bulls selected Michael Jordan. Many sportswriters and analysts have criticized the selection of the injury-plagued Bowie over Jordan as the worst draft pick in the history of American professional sports. But it didn’t end there as the Blazers may also have the second worst draft pick.
The Blazers won the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery and selected Ohio State center Greg Oden with the number one pick in the draft. Some had speculated that they might choose Kevin Durant instead; Durant was picked at No. 2 by the Seattle SuperSonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder). Oden suffered a pre-season knee injury requiring microfracture surgery, and missed the entire 2007–08 season and after repeated surgeries exited the NBA in 2012. By playing 82 games in his entire career with the Blazers, he had effectively played one full NBA season over the span of five seasons from 2007 to 2012. On March 15, 2012, he was waived from the Trail Blazers, and he signed with the Miami Heat on August 7, 2013, more than three years after last appearing in an NBA game. Oden’s constant battle with injuries and Durant’s success resulted in comparisons to the Blazers’ selection of Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in 1984.
But in the draft of 2012, the Blazers got it right and picked point guard Damian Lillard who was the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year. In his rookie season, Damian averaged 19.0 points, 6.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game while making 185 three-pointers — the most in franchise history and the most by a rookie in NBA history. Damian also played more minutes (3,167) than any player in the NBA that season.
Providence Park: Stadium History and Name Changes
Built in 1926 and owned by the Multnomah Athletic Club for use by their amateur sports teams the stadium has undergone some transformations over the years. In the 1950s, the PCL Portland Beavers baseball team moved out of Vaughn Street Park into what was then known as “Multnomah Stadium.” In 1966, the city purchased the stadium and renamed it “Civic Stadium”. In 2000-2001, PGE Park as it was called at the time, underwent a $38.5-million renovation to lure the Triple-A Baseball Portland Beavers and professional soccer’s Portland Timbers, a member of the USSF 2nd Division.
In 2010, after the Beavers finished their baseball season, the park underwent a major face lifting to make it only for soccer and football. Baseball was out. This was done to accommodate the Portland Timbers entry into the Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2011. The Portland Timbers unveiled the new name of their home venue, announcing it will be known as Jeld-Wen Field in March of 2011. The stadium’s nickname became “The House of Pane” as Jeld-Wen is a manufacturer of windows and doors.
The Portland Timbers and Providence Health & Services announced in February 2014 the MLS soccer team’s stadium would now be called Providence Park in a 15-year deal. Jeld-Wen Inc., which had paid for naming rights of Jeld-Wen Field since 2011, took on the reduced status as a Founding Sponsor of the club. Financial terms of the Timbers and Providence deal were kept under wraps.
The stadium sits on a rectangular block bounded by Southwest Morrison Street, Southwest 18th Avenue, the Multnomah Athletic Club building and Southwest Salmon Street, and Southwest 20th Avenue.
Soccer Takes Over in Portland
For more than four decades, there was no question which professional team owned Portland. The Blazers were the core of any local sports fan’s identity. The basketball and soccer seasons overlap and the Timbers are now in a dead heat with the Blazers as Portland’s hot ticket and are poised to usurp the title of Stumptown’s signature sport. Writer Aaron Mesh of the Willamette Week described the new team this way, “Soccer seems hipper. The oddities of the game—its Eurocentric flavor, its reliance on crowd participation, its appeal to mustachioed baristas—dovetail with the rise of a young downtown culture. And most importantly, the team is really good.” The Timbers became the league champions in 2015. The fifth-year franchise won its first MLS Cup title and brought only the second pro sports title in the city’s history back to Portland.
Women’s soccer also captured the hearts of many Portlanders as the Portland Thorns begin to play in 2013 in the new eight-team National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), and the Thorns won the league championship. The team’s home games always drew over 11,000 fans. The Thorns currently hold the NWSL attendance record after welcoming a sold out crowd of 21,144 fans in 2015 to Providence Park. It’s the journey through Year One that thus far defines the NWSL, the third attempt at a women’s professional league in just over a decade. The Portland franchise is owned by Peregrine Sports LLC, which also owns the Portland Timbers.
As part of the National Team player allocation process for the NWSL, Portland Thorns FC received U.S. Women’s National Team forward and 2012 Ballon d’Or finalist Alex Morgan along with the former University of Portland forward Christine Sinclair who is a native of Canada. They got off to a rocky start with a marketing program to draw attention to the squad, with the slogan “Feeling Thorny,” as an off-color play on words. In a progressive town like Portland, with a young, vibrant and active community, the shorts and T-shirts sold like wildfire. Then the PC world started to chime in. A Facebook page went up, and the social world started reacting, positively and negatively to a slogan which some people found offensive and sexist to a family audience. The team, seeing that the simple slogan could cause more damage than it’s worth and could be a distraction to a franchise that is going to struggle to hit its margins, quickly recanted and pulled the merchandise.
Portland calls itself Soccer City U.S.A. Why does this smallest city on the West Coast get to be Soccer City? According to the book entitled Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas, “The moniker Soccer City U.S.A. originated in 1975, the inaugural season of the Portland Timbers in the North American Soccer League. The Timbers reached the championship games that season, buoyed by the zealous and devoted relationship between supporters and the players. Although the team lost that game, the enthusiasm of the supporters was unabated. Soccer City is a place where sporting success is measured in daily commitment.”
This left the Portland Beavers — an AAA farm club of the San Diego Padres — without a home. In October 2010, it was announced that the Beavers had been sold to a group led by Jeff Moorad, owner of the San Diego Padres. They relocated the team to southern California. The city of Hillsboro (western suburb) came to the rescue of baseball fans. The Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate (single-A) started to play in a new state-of-the-art stadium in Hillsboro in 2013 and play from mid-June to early September. The team is named ‘Hops’ in honor of Hillsboro’s proud agricultural heritage and the fact that Oregon is the second largest hop producing state in the United States. Hops is also a term regularly used in baseball — short hop, bad hop, crow hop. The team owners felt that ‘Hops’ encompasses several different components they wanted to include in the team name.
A new amateur baseball team is coming to Portland in 2016. The Portland Pickles will be part of a new summer wood-bat league that’s trying to attract some of the best college players from around the country before they go pro. The new team will play up to 30 home games per season at Walker Stadium in Southeast Portland’s Lents neighborhood. City and League officials have plans to renovate the stadium, adding 500 seats and concessions. The plans go hand-in-hand with the city’s urban renewal goals for Lents. The name of the team is the Portland Pickles — pickle being baseball lingo for a player stranded in a rundown between two bases. The team’s color will be ‘pickle’ green.
Other Sporting Teams and Sporting Events
The Portland Winter Hawks are a Western Hockey League team. The Hawks play their games in Memorial Coliseum, the former home of the Trail Blazers. It is located next to the Rose Garden, the home of the Blazers.
The Rose City Rollers are women of attitude, athleticism, and passion playing a hard-hitting sport of speed and skill. They were pioneers in the rebirth of roller derby and continued to foster its growth. Their goals are to serve their community by empowering women, providing entertainment for their fans and supporting charitable causes. They are a non-profit formed in 2004, and a founding member of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
There is horse racing at Portland Meadows and car racing at the Portland International Raceway. Portland is one of just 16 cities that can host CART Indy car racing. The Oregon Bicycle Racing Association sponsors numerous races. Their races at the Alpenrose Velodrome are exciting. At 268.43 meters around with a 16.6-meter radius and a 43-degree bank, Alpenrose is also one of the steepest velodromes in the country.
Track and Field
Track and Field are Oregon’s sport as many track and field athletics throughout the world train in Eugene which bills its self as Track Town USA. The University of Oregon hosts many prominent track and field events at Hayward Field including the Olympic trials in 2008 and again in 2012. The 2016 trials will also be held at Hayward Field.
The restless soul of Oregon resided in Steve Prefontaine (nicknamed Pre). Born and raised in Coos Bay, Oregon, Prefontaine was a long-distance runner who once held the American record in the five distance track events from the 2000 meters to the 10,000 meters. He is known for his extremely aggressive “front-running” racing style insisting on going out hard and not relinquishing leads, a tactic that his fans and fellow competitors admired. On May 30, 1975, returning from a party and after dropping off friend and distance champion Frank Shorter, Prefontaine was driving down Skyline Boulevard, east of the University of Oregon campus near Hendricks Park, when he swerved his 1973 MGB convertible left to avoid crashing into an oncoming car and hit a rock wall along the side of the street. The overturned car trapped Prefontaine underneath it and he died due to the weight of the vehicle. An annual track event, the Pre Classic, draws thousands of fans every year.
- Skiing at Mt. Hood Timberline is a year-around activity. The high-speed Palmer lift begins operations each spring, and it whisks skiers close to the summit.
- Oregon’s 363 miles of beaches and dunes are open to the public. You can hike the entire coast except for 42 miles of headwalls (sheer cliffs).