Portland feels good about itself for all kinds of reasons. The surroundings are pretty, the food is terrific, and how about those Trail Blazers?
In fact, Portland is the only city with a national cable TV show all about how good it feels about itself.
Take that, Seattle.
But there is one jagged thorn penetrating our rosy self-image, an absence that, especially in midwinter, even a place with our soaring self-esteem seems to take personally:
We have never hosted an NBA All-Star game.
Or even a dunking contest.
In 2016, Toronto will host its first All-Star game, meaning only two cities in the league, Portland and Memphis, have never hosted – and Portland has been in the league way longer than Memphis. Even cities that are no longer in the league – hey there, Seattle – have hosted All-Star games.
Does the NBA even watch “Portlandia”?
Portland has applied for both the 2017 and 2018 All-Star games, and of course the issue came up at the recent festivities in New York. In a press conference reported by The Oregonian’s Mike Tokito, NBA commissioner Adam Silver insisted, “I would love to have an All-Star game in Portland,” although that does sound a little like someone explaining how sorry he was that he couldn’t have lunch with his in-laws.
The problem, Silver explained, was lack of enough hotel rooms in Portland, an explanation the NBA has always offered, and indeed for many past years such a game might have had film crews staying in Kelso. But several more hotels have opened in Portland recently, and now local government is moving forward with a new, 600-room Hyatt Regency convention center hotel. The plan is backed by $60 million in bonds to be paid off by hotel taxes, with suites large enough for both NBA bodies and egos, not all of whom wear uniforms.
In the 30 years that Portland has been arguing over a convention center hotel, the idea that it would position us for an NBA All-Star game has come up often. It’s hard to think that a major convention center hotel wouldn’t at least put us on the list ahead of Memphis.
And, of course, holding an NBA All-Star game would be just a rightful recognition of our passion for the sport. Decades ago, the writer David Halberstam quoted an NBA ref as saying the league’s most manic fans were in Portland, because they had nothing else to do in the winter.
Perhaps a mixed compliment, but we accepted it.
Besides, since then Portland has at least added lots more Thai restaurants.
Still, for a long time, it’s been a mark of how excited we’d be about having an All-Star game here. As one writer put it, “Fans have always been a major part of the Blazers’ success, and they would come out in big numbers for the All-Star Game.”
If they could.
As The New York Times pointed out after last month’s All-Star game in New York, once the NBA had divided up game tickets among 30 teams and various corporate sponsors, it offered exactly none for public sale – for the fifth consecutive year.
The same situation applied for the skills exhibition, including the dunking contest and the three-point shooting competition. The host Knicks and Nets got hardly any tickets for their season ticket holders, although the Knicks have the most expensive tickets in the NBA.
According to the Times, there were some tickets available on the secondary market – what used to be called scalpers – for about $2,000.
(In New York, of course, that’s dinner for two. In Portland, it’s a mortgage payment.)
The same situation might not apply in Portland, of course; our tourism draw isn’t quite like New York’s, even if our won-lost record is a lot better. But the squeeze has extended to other cities; the Times quoted the former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers declaring, after hosting the game in 2003, that he never wanted it again.
“People think it’s our game,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer, “but it’s the league’s game.”
No matter how few Portlanders actually get into the Moda Center for the game, of course, there would be benefits to having an All-Star game here. Sweeping vistas of Portland would appear on network TV, and we’d run into sports reporters in steakhouses, which is always exciting.
But we might be realistic about the benefits from a Portland NBA All-Star game – and from the hotel we hope will help attract it.
At least we’ll always have “Portlandia.”
Which is more than Memphis can say.
This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 3/8/15.