Thursday, November 13, 2014

How to Be a New York Basketball Fan In Portland


The Brooklyn Nets continue their Western roadtrip on Saturday night, away to the Portland Trail Blazers, the only major league sports team in Oregon. The Knicks will visit later in the season.

The Blazers have won just 1 title, 37 years ago, but they've usually been a Playoff team, and they are currently leading the NBA's Northwest Division.

Before You Go. Like Washington State, Oregon is notorious for rain. So, while the game will be indoors, the possibility of rain while you're outdoors is there. And, this being November, you should be aware that Portland is further north than either Montreal (slightly), Toronto, Minneapolis or Green Bay. It gets cold.


The website for The Oregonian, the State's largest newspaper, is predicting high 30s (yes, thirties) for the afternoon, and a nasty low 20s for nighttime. In addition, they're predicting a "wintry mix" for tomorrow, so the yucky stuff could still be on the ground. Bring a winter coat, and maybe also boots.

Portland is in the Pacific Time Zone, 3 hours behind New York. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. For nearly 20 years, the Blazers averaged 12,880 fans per home game, because that was all the Portland Memorial Coliseum could hold. So they went big with their new arena, the Rose Garden -- now the Moda Center. At its peak, it seated 21,538, and they were selling it out. Now, official capacity is 19,441, and the Blazers are averaging 19,746, more than a sellout. In fact, their percentage of capacity is 101.6, a total topped in the NBA only by Chicago and Dallas; those 2, the Knicks and Miami are the only ones who average more total fans per game. So getting tickets could be a problem.

But if you can find tickets, they're cheaper than most NBA teams. In the 100 Level, seats can be found for as low as $74. In the 200 Level, as low as $48. In the 300 Level, as low as $19.

Getting There. It’s 2,899 miles from Madison Square Garden to the Moda Center. In other words, if you’re going, you’re going to want to fly.

After all, even if you get someone to go with you, and you take turns, one drives while the other one sleeps, and you pack 2 days’ worth of food, and you use the side of the Interstate as a toilet, and you don’t get pulled over for speeding, you’ll still need over 2 full days to get there. One way.

But, for future reference, if you really, really want to drive... Get onto Interstate 80 West in New Jersey, and stay on that all the way into the area around Ogden, Utah. Take Exit 168 for Interstate 84 West, which ends in Portland.

Not counting rest stops, you should be in New Jersey for an hour and a half, Pennsylvania for 5:15, Ohio for 4 hours, Indiana for 3 hours, Illinois for 2:45, Iowa for 5 hours, Nebraska for 7:30, Wyoming for 6:45, Utah for 2:30, Idaho for 4:30, and Oregon for 6:30. That’s 49 hours and 15 minutes, and with rest stops, you’re talking 3 full days.

That’s still faster than Greyhound (74 hours, changing in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Minneapolis and Missoula, $570 round-trip) and Amtrak (67 hours, changing in Chicago, $446 round-trip before booking sleeping arrangements).

On Amtrak, you would leave Penn Station on the Lake Shore Limited at 3:40 PM Eastern Time on Wednesday, arrive at Union Station in Chicago at 9:45 AM Central Time on Thursday, and board the Empire Builder at 2:15 PM, and would reach Union Station in Portland at 11:40 AM Pacific Time on Saturday.

Union Station is at 800 NW 6th Avenue. The Greyhound terminal is across the street.

NOTE: Because I was so late with this, you wouldn't be able to get there in time on Greyhound or Amtrak anyway. Sorry.

A round-trip flight from Newark to Portland, if ordered now, could be had, although not nonstop (changing in Minneapolis or Atlanta), for around $900. More likely, it'll cost close to $1,100. MAX Light Rail can get you from the airport to downtown, although you'll have to transfer from the Red Line to the Green Line on the East Side.

Once In the City. Founded in 1845, a mill village originally named Stumptown was mainly owned by 2 men, who each wanted to rename it after his hometown in New England. A coin was flipped, and the man from Portland, Maine won, and the man from Boston lost. "The Portland Penny" is now on display at the Oregon Historical Society.

Portland is home to about 600,000 people, and has a metropolitan area, extending across the Columbia River into southern Washington State, of about 2.3 million, making it 24th out of the NBA's 30 markets. Thus, it's not surprising that it only has 1 team in North America's Big 4 sports -- and, as with most of the single-team metro areas, it's a basketball team. (They have an MLS team, the equivalent of Triple-A in hockey, and formerly a Triple-A baseball team.)

Oregon has no State sales tax. Nor does Portland have a city sales tax. I'm guessing a lot of people come over the Columbia from Washington, the way some New Jerseyans, Pennsylvanians and Marylanders go to Delaware; and Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont residents go to New Hampshire to take advantage on big-ticket items.

The Willamette River divides the city's streets into east and west, while Burnside Street (and, over the river, the Burnside Bridge) divides into north and south. Like Washington, D.C., streets are actually labeled NW, NE, SW and SE. TriMet buses, MAX, WES and Streetcars have single-ride fares of $2.50, while a 1-Day Pass is $5.00.

Going In. The official address of the Moda Center is 1 N. Center Court Street. It can be reached from downtown via the MAX light rail, boarding at the Mall/SW 4th Avenue station, and riding to Rose Quarter Transportation Center across the Willamette. If you're driving right to the arena, parking is $20. Coming from downtown, you're almost certainly going to enter the arena on the south side. Moda is a local healthcare company. The Coliseum, the Blazers' old home, is across the street named Center Court Street.

Built in 1995 as the Rose Garden (Portland is known as the Rose City), it's also home to the Portland Winterhawks of the minor Western Hockey League. The 'Hawks hold the WHL attendance record of 19,103. It's about to debut an Arena Football League team, the Portland Thunder. The WNBA's Portland Fire played there until they were folded. The court and rink are, more or less, laid out north-to-south.

Food. From the arena's website:

With over 70 concession stands, food portables, and beverage points of sale located throughout the Moda Center, you’ll be sure to find exactly what you’re craving. Whether it’s a jumbo hot dog, a basket of fish and chips, a frosty beer, or some cotton candy, our hundreds of friendly Levy Restaurants employees are eager to serve. All of our products are brought in fresh from many local vendors, and are prepared by our certified professional food handlers.

Delicious icons from Portland’s restaurant scene will make their way to the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter as the Trail Blazers debut local favorites this season throughout the arena. Sandwich specialists Bunk Sandwiches will continue to bring Portland’s favorite sandwiches to Trailblazer fans. Pizzeria extraordinaire Sizzle Pie and Salt and Straw Ice Cream anchor the new local focus of the Moda Center menu. The new additions will combine with returning fan favorites and fresh concepts created by the venue’s food service partner Levy Restaurants.

This season Levy Restaurants will also be unveiling new food concepts such as Fowl Language featuring fried chicken, wings, and chicken biscuit sandwiches. The Pines will be a new bar concept on the 300 level which will feature craft beers, cocktails and extraordinary views of the city.
In addition to the new restaurant concepts being rolled out, Levy Restaurants is also introducing a number of new food cart concepts. Humble Slider will feature a variety of house made sliders, at the Polanco cart you will be able to dine on nachos and tacos and more. The Cones cart will serve hand dipped ice cream cones with a many options of toppings and dips for you to choose from.

Team History Displays. The Moda Center "concourses are decorated with historical memorabilia," according to their Wikipedia entry. What that means, I don't know. Perhaps it's just old photos, or maybe old jerseys, sneakers and balls in glass cases built into the walls.

The arena is a bit unusual because its retired number banners are on the upper deck on the sides of the court, instead of hanging over the ends like most arenas. And, for a franchise that's been around for less than half a century, the Blazers have an inordinate amount of retired numbers: 12 -- although 1 number has been retired for 2 players.

Guard Terry Porter is 1 of the 2 players for whom Number 30 is retired. Number 22 was retired for guard Clyde "the Glide" Drexler. Both played on the Blazers' Western Conference Championship teams of 1990 and 1992. Number 45 was retired for guard Geoff Petrie, NBA Rookie of the Year in 1970-71, the Blazers' 1st season. In the 1976 off-season, he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks for Maurice Lucas. Great trade for the Blazers, lousy one for the Hawks: Petrie got hurt and never played again. He's now the president of the Sacramento Kings, and has twice been named NBA Executive of the Year working with them.

The other Blazer honorees are all connected with their 1977 NBA Championship. The others are: 77, head coach Jack Ramsay; 13, guard Dave Twardzik; 14, guard Lionel Hollins; 15, guard Larry Steele; 20, forward Maurice Lucas; 30, forward Bob Gross; 32, center Bill Walton; and 36, forward Lloyd Neal.

Not officially listed with these, or hanging with them at the Moda Center, is Number 1, which has been retired for Larry Weinberg, one of the team's 3 founding owners, and the team president when they won the '77 title. It was retired for him in 1992, but he's been pretty loose with giving permission to wear it: 5 Blazers have worn it since, including current forward Dorell Wright, so it should probably be considered not retired.

Soviet/Lithuanian center Arvydas Sabonis (11) and former Chicago Bulls forward Scottie Pippen (33) also played at least 4 seasons for the Blazers and are in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but neither has had his number retired by the team.

The Blazers hang banners for their NBA titles, their 3 Conference titles, and for their 4 Division titles: 1978, 1991, 1992 and 1999. They last reached the Western Conference Finals in 2000, losing in choking, but also controversial, fashion to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Stuff. Adidas just opened a big new team store in the Moda Center's 100 Level. Those of you who are Yankee Fans are aware of Adidas' Yankee connection, so you can guess that they'll serve the Blazers well.

Although far from such literary cities as New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, or even San Francisco, a few books have been written about the Blazers. Matt Love wrote the 30th Anniversary retrospective Red Hot & Rollin': A Retrospective of the Portland Trail Blazers' 1976-77 Championship Season. With head coach Dr. Jack Ramsay (who died a few weeks ago), in 1995 Steve Cameron wrote Rip City! A Quarter Century with the Portland Trail Blazers. And, as part of the NBA's A History of Hoops series, Nate LeBoutillier wrote the recently-published The Story of the Portland Trail Blazers.

However, DVD releases for the team are rare. Apparently, there is, as yet, no set for the 1977 title, or a Greatest Games package for the team.

During the Game. You do not need to fear for your safety. Portland is one of the most sedate cities in the country: While Blazers fans will get loud, they will not get rough. The only real rivals they had were the Seattle SuperSonics, and they're gone (or, more likely, on hiatus until the NBA either expands again or lets another team move to Seattle). They don't hate the Knicks or the Nets, and if you leave them alone, they'll leave you alone.

A unique feature found in no other multi-purpose arena what is known as the "acoustical cloud." This is a set of 160 rotating acoustic panels suspended from the Moda Center ceiling, and were intended to recreate the roar of noise that made the old Memorial Coliseum one of the loudest buildings in the NBA. One side of each 10 feet by 10 feet panel reflects sound, while the other side absorbs sound. Each panel is shaped like an airplane wing, and is 8 inches thick at the center and 4 inches thick at the edges. The effect during Blazers games is to absorb the noise from the upper levels and reflect it back down to the court.

The panels permit the acoustics of the arena to be adjusted according to the requirements of the event. For smaller events in which only the lower bowl of the arena is used, the panels can be lowered to further improve the sound and increase the intimacy of the arena.

The Blazers' mascot is Blaze the Trail Cat, a 2-tone silver-colored mountain lion. Local rapper Jonathan "Speedygunz" Stephens recently recorded a theme song for them, incorporating a nickname for Portland that's a bit stronger than "the Rose City": "Rip City." (A "rip" is an old term for a rebound.) Previously, in the Drexler era, there were songs titled "Rip City Rhapsody" and "Bust-a-Bucket," and you might hear those, too.

After the Game. As I said, safety shouldn't be an issue. The days of the "Jail Blazers" are gone, and, besides, that was the players. The Portland fans have been good ones for 40 years.

I have heard, but can't confirm, that Claudia's Sports Pub is a bar that shows Yankee games, so it might be friendly to Knick and Net fans as well. However, it's 3 miles southeast of the Moda Center, at 3006 SE Hawthorne Blvd. That might be a bit out of your way.

Much closer, 5 blocks to the east, is Burgerville, at 1135 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. And 4 blocks north is Upright Brewing, at 240 North Broadway.

Sidelights. Aside from getting ramped up over their Blazers, Portland is a very relaxed city. Might even say "mellow." After all, Bill Walton loved it there.

* Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Blazers' old arena is separated from their new one by Center Court Street. It opened in 1960, and hosted the 1965 NCAA Final Four, won by Gail Goodrich's UCLA over Cazzie Russell's Michigan and Bill Bradley's Princeton. The Beatles played there on August 22, 1965, and Elvis Presley sang there on November 11, 1970 and April 27, 1973.

The Portland Buckaroos began playing in the Coliseum when it opened, changing their name to the Winterhawks in 1975, and still split their home games between the Coliseum and the Moda Center. They've won the Memorial Cup, the championship of North American junior hockey, 5 times: 1982, 1983, 1986, 1998 and 2013. Although not a farm team of the Chicago Blackhawks, they received secondhand uniforms from the Chicago franchise, and to this day they use the same Indian head logo.

On November 1, 1974, Gerald Ford became the 1st incumbent President to attend an NBA game. At the Memorial Coliseum, he watched the Trail Blazers defeat the Buffalo Braves (the team now known as the Los Angeles Clippers) 113–106. "Blazermania" was born here in the title season of 1976-77. From March 1977 to March 1978, the Blazers might have been as fine a team (not a collection of players, but a team) as has ever been in the NBA, right up there with the early 1970s Knicks. Then Walton got hurt again, and the franchise has never fully recovered. Still, it was 12,880 (later 12,888) fans every home game until the Rose Garden opened in 1995, and it was only the "Jail Blazers" scandal that led to unsold seats at Blazer games, from which they have since bounced back.

The old address was 1401 N. Wheeler Avenue, but was changed to 300 N. Winning Way. A street to the south of it is named N. Drexler Drive, for Clyde the Glide.

* Providence Park. This stadium's site has been used for Portland sports since 1893, when it was known as Multnomah Field. (Multnomah is the name of Portland's County.) The current stadium went up in 1926 as Multnomah Stadium. It became Civic Stadium in 1966, PGE Park in 2001, and Jeld-Wen Field in 2011 -- named for a local window and door company, leading to Timbers fans calling it the House of Pane. This year, it was renamed again; like the Blazers' arena, for a healthcare company: Providence Health and Services.

It consists of a grandstand starting at 3rd base, wrapping around home plate, and extending down the right-field line, making it an early attempt to be suitable for both baseball and football, and, really, being neither. An bleacher section was added, cutting off left field and making it suitable for football and soccer, but not for baseball. Still, like the old ballparks had, it has a large roof held up by support poles. Its current capacity is 20,438, which, when it had the Beavers, made it one of the largest stadiums in the major leagues.

It was used by both the University of Oregon and Oregon State University for some of their "home" football games, even though the Ducks are 112 miles south in Eugene and the Beavers are 86 miles southwest in Corvallis. It briefly hosted pro football with the WFL's Portland Storm/Thunder in 1974-75 and the USFL's Portland Breakers in 1985.

Mostly, though, it's been used for baseball: Various teams named the Portland Beavers, mostly in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Other teams, called the Portland Mavericks and the Portland Rockies, have filled in the gaps, so, aside from 1994, it hosted pro baseball continuously from 1956 to 2010.

In all their time there, the Beavers won just 1 Pennant, in 1983, as did their parent club that season, the Philadelphia Phillies. The '83 Beavers included Juan Samuel and Larry Andersen, plus a washed-up Stan Bahnsen playing out the string. They won 4 Division titles there, the last in 2004, as a farm team of the San Diego Padres. Players on this team included Xavier Nady, Jeff Cirillo, Tim Byrdak, and Sterling Hitchcock, whom the Yankees traded to the Seattle Mariners instead of Andy Pettitte, to get Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson.

The Portland Timbers of the North American Soccer League played there, and when the new Timbers were established in Major League Soccer, they began playing there was well. Their "Cascadia Derby" with the Seattle Sounders (another name revived from the old NASL) is truly an event. The Portland Thorns (a play on "Rose City") of women's pro soccer also use it. The U.S. national soccer team has played there 4 times, losing none: 3 wins and a draw. The last appearance was a July 9, 2013 win over Belize.

1844 SW Morrison Street, about a mile southwest of downtown. The football stadium for Lincoln High School is adjacent. MAX light rail to Kings Hill/SW Salmon Street.

* Site of Vaughn Street Park. Built in 1901, this was not the first home of pro baseball in Portland, but, since the Beavers moved out of what's now Providence Park in 2010, it remains the longest-serving. With a covered roof, exposed left-field bleachers, and a short right-field wall with only street behind it, it resembled Baker Bowl, then home of the Phillies (although its right-field wall was 315 feet, not nearly as close as Baker Bowl's 280).

The Beavers won Pennants there in 1901, 1906, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1936 and 1945. Track legend Jesse Owens briefly owned a Negro League team that played there. While at Vaughn Street, notable Beavers included Hall-of-Famers Joe Tinker, Stan Coveleski, Dave Bancroft and Mickey Cochrane. The 1945 Pennant-winning Beavers had some interesting names: George Windsor, Eddie Adams, Johnny Gill. I didn't say they were good players, only that they were interesting names.

In 1947, a fire ruined the left-field bleachers, and in 1955 the stadium was condemned as unsafe. The Beavers moved into Multnomah Stadium (now Providence Park), and Vaughn Street Park was demolished. The site is now industrial. 2001 NW 24th Avenue at Vaughn Street, about a mile and a half northwest of downtown. Number 77 bus. (MAX doesn't get all that close.)

According to an April 23, 2014 article in The New York Times, in the absence of their own MLB team, while Southern Oregon tilts toward the San Francisco Giants, most of the State puts aside the Timbers-Sounders rivalry and the now-dormant Blazers-Sonics rivalry, and supports the Seattle Mariners. There is some Giants, Yankees and Boston Red Sox representation, mainly due to TV exposure. But they're mainly Mariners fans. According to a September 5, 2014 article in The Atlantic Monthly, the same geography applies to football: Southern Oregon goes for the San Francisco 49ers, while most of the State goes for the Seattle Seahawks.

* Non-Sports Sites. Portland isn't an old city by American standards, but it is an old city by Western standards. The Oregon Historical Society, featuring Wild West and Native American memorabilia, as well as the aforementioned Portland Penny, is at 1200 SW Park Avenue. The Portland Art Museum is across the street, at 1219 SW Park Avenue. This is in the area of Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square, and so there are other historic sites that may be of interest. MAX to City Hall/SW 5th & Jefferson St.

The region's only national historic site is centered around a complete replica of Fort Vancouver, a fur-trading camp founded in 1825 (and named for the same man for whom the Canadian city was named, late 18th Century Royal Navy officer George Vancouver). It's across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington. 1501 E. Evergreen Blvd. MAX Yellow Line to Delta Park/Vanport, then transfer to Number 4 bus to Evergreen, then half a mile east.

The closest Oregon has come to electing a President is Herbert Hoover. After his parents died, the boy from West Branch, Iowa, outside Des Moines, was taken to live with his uncle in Newberg, 26 miles southwest of Portland. The house, at 115 S. River Street, is now the Hoover-Minthorn House Museum. If you're interested, but you don't have a car, the Caravan Airport Shuttle can get you to Newberg, then the house is a mile and a half away.

The tallest building in Oregon is the Wells Fargo Center, at 5th & Jefferson, in the Pioneer Courthouse Square area downtown. This is another connection with Philadelphia, as that's also the current name of the new 76ers/Flyers arena. This one was built in 1972 and is 546 feet tall. They haven't built a lot of skyscrapers in Portland, because they're wary of overdevelopment. Two notable slogans are "Keep Portland Weird" and "PLAN: Prevent Los Angelization Now." They like their San Franciscoesque combination of big city and quirky small town, and aren't going to let anyone mess it up.

Easily, the tallest thing in Oregon is Mount Hood, 11,249 feet high and easily visible from the city. But it's over 70 miles east of Portland, and only reachable by car.

But as a result of being a "small city," there haven't been many TV shows shot and/or based in Portland. Some people think The Simpsons' Springfield is in Oregon, because the city has street names that correspond to characters, including Flanders and Lovejoy. LeverageGrimm and Portlandia were filmed and set in Portland. But while Bates Motel and Eureka are set in Oregon, they're filmed outside Vancouver -- the one in British Columbia, not the one in Washington State. NBC's notorious late 1970s sitcom Hello, Larry, starring a post-M*A*S*H McLean Stevenson, was set in Portland. The new superhero series The Flash has Portland standing in for Barry Allen's fictional Central City.

The State has been much luckier with movies. Ice Cube's films Are We There Yet? and Are We Done Yet? were set in Oregon. So were several of Gus Van Sant's films, including My Own Private Idaho and Drugstore Cowboy. So were Stephen King's Stand By Me and Madonna's turkey Body of Evidence. So were The Ring 1 and 2.

Raquel Welch's 1972 roller derby film Kansas City Bomber was filmed in Portland rather than K.C. That same year, The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid, about a Wild West bank robbery gone wrong (this was filmed before Dog Day Afternoon), was filmed in Portland instead of Minnesota. Short Circuit was filmed in Oregon, including in Portland. The Goonies and Kindergarten Cop were set and filmed in Astoria. Free Willy was filmed in Portland and Astoria. Mr. Holland's Opus was filmed on location at Portland's Ulysses S. Grant High School -- in an early scene, set in 1964, the school's name can be seen being changed to John F. Kennedy High School, but the real school remains Grant. Pay It Forward was also filmed in Portland. Sadly, so were the Twilight films.

But the best-known fiction set in Oregon -- yes, more than Twilight -- is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, novel by Ken Kesey (who had a farm in the State), film directed by Milos Forman and starring Jack Nicholson -- as did Five Easy Pieces, also set in Oregon.

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Portland is a long way away. But if you don't mind the distance, it's a nice place to visit, and not just for basketball. Go check it out.

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