Saturday, February 25, 2017

How to Be a New York Basketball Fan In Portland -- 2016-17 Edition

Next Saturday, the Brooklyn Nets will visit the Portland Trail Blazers. The New York Knicks will visit on March 23.

Before You Go. Like its Pacific Northwest neighbors Seattle and Vancouver, Portland is notorious for rain. The game will be indoors, but you won't be indoors on the entire visit. The website for The Oregonian, Portland's major newspaper, says the temperatures will be in the high 40s by day and the mid-30s by night on Saturday, and there will, yes, be rain.

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

Tickets. At the old Coliseum, the Blazers couldn't even fit in 13,000 people. From their 1977 title run until they moved out in 1995, the attendance was the same every night: 12,880, later 12,888. That was 814 consecutive sellouts.

Today, they're in the Moda Center, with 19,441 seats. They haven't sold out every game in the 20 years since they moved it, but they are averaging 19,204 this season, so that's a little under 99 percent of capacity. Tickets will be tough to get.

But, for the moment, they are available. Tickets in the 100 Level are, according to the team's website, available for "As low as $109." In the 200 Level, "As low as $72." In the 300 Level, "As low as $24." By NBA standards, that's quite cheap.

Getting There. It's 2,895 miles from Times Square to the Moda Center in Portland. 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 through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah. Outside Ogden, Utah, at Exit 168, switch to Interstate 84 West. Take that into Idaho and Oregon, all the way to the end of I-84.

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 2:30, Illinois for 2:45, Iowa for 5 hours, Nebraska for 6:45, Wyoming for 6:30, Utah for 3:30, Idaho for 5:30, and Oregon for 6:15. In total, that's around 49 1/2 hours. Given rest stops, we're talking more like 60 hours -- 2 1/2 days.

That's still faster than Greyhound (70 hours, changing buses in Denver, $518 round-trip) and Amtrak (67 hours, changing in Chicago, $464 before booking sleeping arrangements). Union Station, which serves both carriers, is at 550 NW 6th Avenue. 6th & Hoyt station on MAX.

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 10:10 AM Pacific Time on Saturday.

A round-trip flight from Newark to Portland International Airport (whose call letters, PDX, have also become a nickname for the city) can be had for under $900. A round-trip flight is possible, but having to change planes is much more likely. The MAX Red Line will get you from the airport to downtown in 33 minutes.

Once In the City. Founded in 1845 as the end of the Oregon Trail, in the shadow of Mount Hood, legend has it that the name of the town was decided by a coin flip. Francis Pettygrove wanted to name the town after his hometown of Portland, Maine. Asa Lovejoy was from Groton, Massachusetts. Pettygrove won, and that's why the Knicks aren't playing the Groton Trail Blazers next Saturday.

Portland, a.k.a. the Rose City has a population of around 620,000, and a metro area of about 3 million. It's still growing, but not as fast as it was in the 1980s and '90s, when a group successfully lobbied to slow down the suburban sprawl. It was named PLAN, for Prevent Los Angelization Now.

The State of Oregon has no sales tax, and this covers the County of Multnomah and the City of Portland. The Willamette River is the divider between east and west, and Burnside Street, including its bridge over the river, is the divider between north and south.

ZIP Codes in Oregon begin with the digits 97, and Portland and its suburbs use 970 and 971. The Area Code for Portland is 503, with 971 overlaid.

TriMet, the area's public transit service, runs buses and the MAX light rail system. A single fare is $2.50, while a day pass is $5.00. They also run the WES Commuter Rail.
A MAX train, downtown

The capital of Oregon is Salem, about 50 miles southwest of downtown Portland. The 1st 2 State Houses were destroyed by fires in 1855 and 1935. The new State House opened in 1938, but it looks like a cross between an Art Deco church and a prison. Fortunately, the grounds are covered with examples of Oregon's natural beauty, but also include a pair of burned, broken pillars from its predecessor.
The State House in Salem

Going In. The official address of the Moda Center is 1 North Center Court Street. The building is bounded by Ramsay Way (named for former head coach Jack Ramsay) on the north, Wheeler Avenue on the east, Multnomah Street on the south and Center Court Street on the west. MAX reaches the arena via Rose Quarter and Interstate stations.

Definitely walk from your hotel or take public transit, because parking spaces are expensive, running around $22. If you do come in by MAX, you'll probably be entering through the south side of the arena.
Opening in 1995 as the Rose Garden, it was renamed for healthcare provider Moda Health in 2013. It is also home to the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks (for some but not all games), and the Arena Football League's Portland Thunder. The court is aligned northwest to southeast.
The Blazers' former home, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, is across Center Court Street. It opened in 1960, and was home to the Blazers from their 1970 debut until 1995, and the Winterhawks full-time from 1976 to 1995 and part-time since then.
The Coliseum

It hosted the 1965 NCAA Final Four, with UCLA beating Michigan in the Final. This was also the 1st Final Four to feature a New Jersey-based team, the Princeton squad led by future Knick and future U.S. Senator Bill Bradley. The Beatles performed at the Coliseum on August 22, 1965, and Elvis Presley sang there on November 11, 1970 and April 27, 1973.
The Moda Center, with the Coliseum behind it

Food. I couldn't find a section guide to the concession stands, but the arena website did say this:

Delicious icons from Portland's restaurant scene fill the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter.


Sandwich specialists Bunk Sandwiches will continue to bring Portland's favorite sandwiches to Trail Blazers fans. Pizzeria extraordinaire Sizzle Pie and Salt and Straw Ice Cream anchor the new local focus of the Moda Center menu. These new additions, returning fan favorites and fresh concepts created by the venue's food service partner, Levy Restaurants, are sure to please all who attend.
Levy Restaurants also recently unveiled new food concepts including Fowl Language, featuring fried chicken, wings, and chicken biscuit sandwiches. The Pines is a new bar on the 300 level which features craft beers, cocktails and extraordinary views of the Portland skyline. 

In addition to the new culinary experiences, Levy Restaurants also recently introduced a number of new food carts. Plum Tasty is a healthy food cart brought to you by Moda, where slow food is served fast.  It's a delicious way to dine during the game with mouth-watering food made fresh and healthy just for you, including vegetarian options and healthy grab 'n go snacks.  Plum Tasty is located at Entry A9 on the Main Concourse. Humble Slider features a variety of house-made sliders, and at the Polanco cart you can dine on nachos, tacos and more. The Cones cart serves hand-dipped ice cream cones with many toppings and dips for you to choose from.

The Club Level provides each guest with an exquisite variety of food and beverage options. Nook offers a range of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. At the Hot Stone location you're able to pick from an excellent selection of artisan pizzas, pastas and salads.  Oven toasted sandwiches and 1/3 pound burgers are served at the Junction 5 location.  The Club Level also features Portland favorites such as Bunk Sandwiches, Cha Cha Cha traditional Mexican Food, and Salt and Straw farm to cone ice creams. 

Team History Displays. The Blazers aren't a particularly old team, nor an especially successful one. But they celebrate the history they have heavily. They hang banners for their 1977 NBA Championship; their 1977, 1990 and 1992 Western Conference Championships; and their 1978, 1991, 1992, 1999 and 2015 Division titles.

A whopping 8 players, plus the head coach, the owner, and a broadcaster from their 1977 NBA Championship team have been honored with retired number banners. Number 1 for owner Larry Weinberg is in the rafters, but is still available to be worn by a player. Retired are 13 for guard Dave Twardzik, 14 for guard Lionel Hollins (now the head coach of the Nets), 15 for guard Larry Steele, 20 for forward Maurice Lucas, 30 for forward Bob Gross, 32 for center Bill Walton, 36 for forward Lloyd Neal, and 77, in honor of the year, for the coach, Dr. Jack Ramsay. A microphone is retired for broadcaster Bill Schonely.

Guard Geoff Petrie, the 1st player ever drafted by the Blazers in 1970, was 1971 NBA Rookie of the Year, but was traded for Lucas before the 1976-77 season. Nonetheless, the Blazers retired his Number 45. From the 1990 and 1992 Western Conference titles, they've retired the numbers of guards Clyde "the Glide" Drexler, 22; and Terry Porter, 30. In 2008, they had a dual-retirement ceremony for 30, for Gross and Porter.

The Blazers' retired number banners are, as far as I know, unique is sports, in that they have the honorees' signatures stitched onto them.
In addition to Walton, Drexler and Ramsay, Blazers in the Basketball Hall of Fame include guard Lenny Wilkens (the last season of his playing career, 1974-75, player-coach that year and coach only the next), guard Dražen Petrović (before he became a New Jersey Net), forward Scottie Pippen (for 4 seasons after he left the Chicago Bulls), and center Arvydas Sabonis. Walton, Drexler, Wilkens and Pippen were named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players, but only Walton and Drexler for what they did in Portland.

The Winterhawks have won the President's Cup as Champions of the Western Hockey League in 1982, 1998 and 2013, and the Memorial Cup in 1983 and 1998. 

Don't be confused by their banners: While the Chicago Blackhawks were originally stocked by players bought from the defunct Portland Rosebuds, the Winterhawks have not only a similar name but the same red & black colors and the same Indian Head logo as the Chicago team, and they even followed the "Black Hawks" by shortening their name from 2 words ("Winter Hawks") to 1, they are not a farm team of the Blackhawks.

Winter Hawks/Winterhawks alumni include Hall-of-Famers Mark Messier and Cam Neely, the brothers Dave & Wayne Babych, Adam Deadmarsh, Brandon Dubinsky, Ray Ferraro, the brothers Marcel & Marian Hossa, Clint Malarchuk, Brenden Morrow, the brothers Jim & Larry Playfair, Mike Vernon, and the brothers Blake & Glen Wesley.

Stuff. The Trail Blazers Fan Shop is in the Moda Center, open during games, and 11 AM to 3 PM otherwise.

Amazon.com doesn't have any DVDs about the Blazers -- not even a retrospective of their 1977 title season. Just VHS tapes. They do have some books. Jack Scott wrote Bill Walton: On the Road With the Portland Trail Blazers after their title season. Walton and Wayne Thompson wrote Blazermania: This Is Our Story -- The Official History of the Portland Trail Blazers in 2010, on the team's 40th Anniversary. And Nate LeBoutillier published the Blazers' edition of the NBA's A History of Hoops series earlier this year.

During the Game. Portland is a relatively safe city. The Blazers had a bit of a rivalry with the Seattle SuperSonics, but with the Sonics gone, PTB games are rather peaceful. They have no history of animosity with either the Knicks or the Nets, and as long as you don't provoke anybody, you'll be fine.

A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Blazers' fans 3rd: "This is one of the more dedicated fan bases in all of professional sports... This is truly a fan base that would be crushed if the team were to leave town." A swipe at the underwhelming response of Seattle to losing the Sonics, perhaps?

The original version of the Pinwheel logo

The Blazers have perhaps the funkiest logo in sports: Designed by a cousin of team founder Harry Glickman (still alive at age 91), it's been called a "pinwheel," and represents 2 5-on-5 basketball teams line up against each other, one wearing red, the other silver.


The current version



The Blazers hold auditions for National Anthem singers, rather than having a regular singer. Their theme song is an instrumental titled "Crazy" (with no connection to the Patsy Cline song of the same title). But the only notable fan chant is, "Let's go, Blazers!"



In addition to the BlazerDancers cheerleaders, a junior dance team composed of 8- to 11-year-old girls also performs at selected home games, as does a hip-hop dance troupe. Other regular in-game entertainment acts include a co-educational acrobatic stunt team which performs technically difficult cheers, a breakdancing squad known as the Portland TrailBreakers, and a pair of percussion acts.



The mascot is Blaze the Trail Cat, a mountain lion, which makes sense, given the Cascade Mountains in which Portland sits. Like the Gorilla in Phoenix and Hugo the Hornet in Charlotte, Blaze does trick dunks.
In fact, Saturday's game against the Nets is Mascot Night, at which the Blazers will celebrate "Blaze's Birthday Bash."

After the Game. Portland's reputation for safety, and their fans' reputation for being noisy but not nasty, will work in your favor. Both you and your car should be safe.

If you're hungry after the game, on Martin Luther King Blvd. at Hassalo Street, 6 blocks east of the arena, there's a Burgerville. On Grand Avenue between Multnomah and Hassalo, there's a Denny's and a Red Robin. Spirit of 77 is a Blazers-themed bar at 500 NE MLK Blvd. at Lloyd Blvd., across from the Oregon Convention Center, a 5-minute walk from the Moda Center. 

Blitz-Ladd recently featured in a Thrillist article about the best sports bar in every State, as the best one in Oregon. 2239 SE 11th Avenue, at Sherman Street. Number 4 bus.

The Jolly Roger, at 1340 SE 12th Avenue at Madison Street, is known as a hangout for New York Giants fans. They may also be welcoming to Knicks or Nets fans. Bus 4 from Rose Quarter Transit Center. I have also heard that Kingston Bar & Grill is a Giant fans' bar. 2021 SW Morrison Street, at 20th Place, across from Providence Park.

If you visit Portland during the European soccer season, which we are now in, the likeliest place to watch your favorite club is at the Toffee Club, 1006 SE Hawthorne Blvd. Bus 14.

Sidelights. Portland doesn't have much of a sports history besides the Blazers. But there are a few items worth mentioning, besides the Coliseum and the Moda Center.

* Providence Park. This started as a minor-league baseball field named Multnomah Field in 1893. It was replaced by Multnomah Stadium in 1926. The name has been changed to Civic Stadium in 1966, PGE Park in 2001, Jeld-Wen Field in 2011 and Providence Park in 2014.
In this photo, you can tell that it was designed for baseball.

At 21,444 seats, it was one of the largest ballparks in the minor leagues. It was home to the Pacific Coast League's Portland Beavers from 1956 to 1972, again from 1978 to 1993, and again from 2001 to 2010. 

It was home to the Portland Mavericks of the Northwest League, the team with whom Jim Bouton began his post-Ball Four comeback and co-invented Big League Chew. It was home to the Portland Rockies of the Northwest League from 1995 to 2000. Currently, the city doesn't have a professional baseball team.

Portland State University plays football there, and both the University of Oregon and Oregon State University played "home" games on the site between 1894 and 1970. It was home to the Portland Storm, later the Portland Thunder, of the World Football League in 1974 and '75, and the Portland Breakers of the USFL in 1985.

The original Portland Timbers, of the original North American Soccer League, played there from 1975 to 1982. After the NASL folded, the Timbers were reconstituted, began play in 1985, folded again in 1990, started again in 2001, and joined Major League Soccer in 2011.

The Portland Thorns of the National Women's Soccer League began play there in 2013, and, like their masculine counterparts, are one of the best-supported teams in their league.

Civic Stadium hosted Soccer Bowl '77, in which Pelé and the New York Cosmos won the NASL title by beating the Seattle Sounders, making it Pelé's last competitive match. (I wonder if the Portland fans rooted against Seattle.) 

It hosted 4 games of the 1999 Women's World Cup, and 6 of the 2003 edition, 1 involving the U.S. It's hosted 4 games of the U.S. men's national team, 3 wins and a draw, most recently a 2013 win over Belize.

Elvis played one of the earliest stadium concerts at Multnomah Stadium on September 2, 1957. 1844 SW Morrison Street. Kings Hill/SW Salmon Street MAX station.

* Portland Ice Arena site. From 1914 to 1926, the Portland Rosebuds played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. Their home was the Portland Ice Arena. In 1916, they won the PCHA title, and became the 1st American team to play in the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to the National Hockey Association Champions, the Montreal Canadiens. 

(Don't mention this to Portland fans, but the next year, Seattle beat the Canadiens and became the 1st American city to actually win the Cup.)

The team included future Hall-of-Famers Dick Irvin Sr., Ernie "Moose" Johnson and Tommy Dunderdale, but folded in 1926, and its players were mostly brought east to form the Chicago Blackhawks.

From 1928 to 1941, the Arena was home to the Portland Buckaroos. Several teams of that name played in Portland until 1975, and were replaced by the Winterhawks in 1976. The Arena closed in 1953 and was demolished. NW 20th & 21st Avenues, Northrup & Marshall Streets, a mile west of Union Station. NW 21st & Northrup on MAX.
Portland has the NBA and MLS, but don't expect it to get teams in the other sports soon. Its population would rank it 24th in MLB, 20th in the NFL and 19th in the NHL. For the time being, the closest MLB and NFL teams are in Seattle, 173 miles away; and the closest NHL team is in Vancouver, 314 miles away.

An April 23, 2014 article in The New York Times shows that the most popular MLB team in Portland is the closest team, the Seattle Mariners, but it's not overwhelming: They average about 22 percent of Portland baseball fans, while the Yankees and Red Sox battle it out for 2nd place, in the 10s. 

The September 2014 issue of The Atlantic shows that the most popular NFL team in Portland, and in most of Oregon, is the Seattle Seahawks -- and while this was after the Hawks' Super Bowl XLVIII win, it was before they got into Super Bowl XLIX. Southwestern Oregon, closer to California than to Washington State, prefers the San Francisco 49ers, while southeastern Oregon prefers... the Dallas Cowboys, as does neighboring southwestern Idaho. Ew.

The University of Oregon is 114 miles south on I-5, in Eugene. It can be reached by Cascades Point bus from Union Station, although this will take 2 hours and 45 minutes and cost $26 -- each way. Oregon State University is 87 miles south, in Corvallis. You'd have to take at least 2 conveyances to get there, and it would cost $50.50 -- each way.

Portland's top museum is its Art Museum, at 1219 SW Park Avenue. The Oregon Historical Society Museum is across the street at 1200 SW Park. City Hall station on MAX. The Oregon Museum of Science & Industry is at 1945 SE Water Avenue. OMSI/SE Water station on MAX.

Oregon has never produced a President. The closest it's come is the years when an orphaned Herbert Hoover lived with an uncle growing up in Newberg, 25 miles southwest of downtown Portland. The Hoover-Minthorn House is at 115 S. River Street. There is a bus that goes there, but it's prohibitively expensive, so if you want to see it, you should rent a car.

As with Utah, the tallest building in Oregon is named the Wells Fargo Center. Not to be confused with the Philadelphia arena of the same name, his one opened in 1972, and looks it: It's rather dull architecture. It stands 546 feet at 1300 SW 5th Avenue. City Hall station on MAX.

The TV shows Bates Motel (based on the film Psycho, which was also set there) and Eureka were set in Oregon. Specifically in Portland, Leverage, Portlandia, and the brief 1990s CBS crime drama Under Suspicion were both filmed and set there. Unfortunately, the most famous TV show set in Portland was one of NBC's all-time turkeys, the McLean Stevenson sitcom Hello, Larry.

In addition to Psycho (which was filmed in Southern California), films based in Oregon include Ice Cube's Are We There Yet? series, the Madonna bomb Body of Evidence, Drugstore Cowboy, Five Easy Pieces, The Goonies, Arnold Schwarzenegger's comedy Kindergarten Cop, The Lathe of Heaven, Mr. Brooks, Mr. Holland's Opus, My Own Private Idaho, Overboard, Paint Your Wagon (Clint Eastwood in a musical? Yes), Pay It Forward, the track & field movies Personal Best and Pre (about Steve Prefontaine, the 1st athlete to endorse Oregon-based Nike footwear), The Postman (Kevin Costner's postapocalyptic film, a.k.a. "Kevin's Gate"), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Short Circuit, Stand By Me, and, of course, the film version (which he hated) of Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

*

And on that note, let me remind you that the city has the slogan "Keep Portland Weird." The Trail Blazers, with their odd history, are a part of that. This is not a threatening town, unless you don't like weird things.



But you're from New York (or New Jersey), so you're used to weird. You should be able to have fun in Portland.

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