Blazers put out the Fire; local bidder dismayed
The 11th-hour bid by Clyde Drexler and Portland businessman Terry Emmert to save the Portland Fire is over, but not because the NBA or the two aspiring partners didn't want it to happen.
Not long after the NBA transferred ownership of the WNBA franchises to NBA owners in each of the cities, Emmert Ñ a season ticket-holder and fan of women's basketball Ñ and Drexler met with representatives of the Trail Blazers. Their offer was turned down, and the Blazers announced that the Fire was folding.
Emmert then called NBA Commissioner David Stern, who would prefer that WNBA teams not fold. Since the NBA is selling WNBA expansion franchises at $10 million, it can hardly sell existing franchises for less. But Stern, sensing a chance to avoid the demise of a team, told Emmert to tell Blazer management it had the league's permission to work out a deal.
Emmert says he made 'a very substantial offer,' but Blazer Executive Vice President Erin Hubert Ñ relaying a message from President-General Manager Bob Whitsitt Ñ told Emmert this week that there will be no deal.
'She said Paul Allen had made the decision that they weren't getting involved with it,' Emmert says. 'They refused to be a conduit to keeping the team together.'
Emmert is upset for many reasons, including Whitsitt's refusal to meet with him face to face.
'That's the part that blows your mind,' Emmert says. 'All it would have taken is 10 minutes of Bob's time.
'We are disappointed as hell. A lot of jobs and careers of good people were on the line. Now this means most of them are out of basketball. It could have been avoided, but it was like (the Blazers) don't want a team in Portland they don't own. The irony of it is, they are losing probably $15 million in rental of the Rose Garden and $10 million in concessions over the next 10 years.
'All Bob had to say was, 'We'll work with you,' and Stern would have given us a green light. It's not a money-motivated issue, it's a control issue, and how bad would (Whitsitt) look if we are a success.
'This is a tremendous loss to the community, and it's very hard for me to accept.'
Emmert wouldn't reveal figures, but other sources say the offers for the Fire were between $1.5 million and $2.5 million. Allen would have recouped some of his losses from the last three years, kept a franchise going and gained additional revenue in building rent and concessions.
It wasn't worth the trouble, evidently, which is puzzling. Too bad Allen won't speak to the media and explain his reasoning. Of course, that could be said on a variety of subjects.
• A tragic ending to a sometimes-troubled life came with the loss of Broderick Lee, who was found dead in a Los Angeles park on Jan. 20. Details regarding his death have not been released.
Lee, 33, was one of the great wrestlers in Portland history. A two-time state champion at Marshall High and three-time NCAA Division II champion at Portland State, he was twice a collegiate Greco-Roman champion, once a U.S. senior Greco-Roman champion and an alternate on the 1992 Olympic team.
'A likable, hardworking, dedicated young man,' says Roy Pittman, head coach of the Peninsula Wrestling Club and one of Lee's early mentors. 'Broderick did more in two years than a lot of people do in a lifetime in terms of getting himself together mentally, physically and spiritually.
'When he was young, he went from school to school because of poor behavior, but by the time he had graduated from Marshall, he was baby-sitting for the principal. He changed that much.'
Lee's life changed dramatically in 1990, when he was charged with sexual abuse and providing liquor to several youths at a summer wrestling camp. He pleaded guilty and served time at the Multnomah County Restitution Center.
'He got over that in his life, but certain people couldn't get over it,' Pittman says. 'He went on to do some unreal things on the international wrestling circuit, but there was always someone holding that over his head.'
Lee retired from international competition in 2000. He continued to coach wrestling in southern California in the years before his death.
'He was a great communicator and student of his sport, and his pupils loved him,' Pittman says. 'A lot of them came up to Portland from California for his funeral. The only thing he might have loved more than wrestling was his mother (Dolores Lee). He was awesome. He was one you thought would have beaten the odds.'
• The Pilots are headed to the White House.
The University of Portland's NCAA champion women's soccer team will meet with President Bush on Feb. 21. A traveling party of 30-plus will make the trip.
'We are very excited,' says coach Clive Charles, whose battle with prostate cancer has been part of the dramatic story. 'The girls can't wait. It is a huge deal for us. We are a small school up here in the Northwest, and all of a sudden, we are national champions going to the White House. Some of it has sunk in; some of it hasn't yet.'
The Pilots also will be honored Feb. 16 with a banquet at Nike that is open to the public. Call the UP athletic office (503-943-7117) for tickets.
• More Seattle Mariners' games than ever Ñ 113 Ñ will be telecast on Fox Sports Net this season, including the team's season-opening series against Oakland in Tokyo on March 25-26.
Because of the early games in Japan, the Mariners won't play an exhibition in Portland this spring. The San Diego Padres will play an exhibition against the Portland Beavers on March 28 at PGE Park.
• Oregon State will hang a banner in Gill Coliseum in honor of Dale Thomas, its Hall of Fame former wrestling coach, during a Feb. 16 meet with Oregon.
Thomas, who scored more dual-meet victories than any coach in NCAA history, was 616-168-13 over a 34-year career that ended in 1990. He coached seven NCAA champions and 33 All-Americans and won 22 conference team championships.
The meet is free, and the public is invited. A bus will transport fans to and from the Portland area the day of the meet. Contact former Beaver wrestlers Ron Iwasaki (503-628-1969) or Lauren Johnson (503-702-0894) for more information.
• A celebration of life will be held Wednesday in the Rose Room at the Rose Garden for Sandy Chisholm, who died Monday of liver disease. Chisholm worked as executive assistant to ex-Trail Blazer President Harry Glickman for more than 20 years. She served 25 years in the organization until her retirement in 1998.
'It was more than the typical boss/secretary type of relationship,' Glickman says. 'My wife and I became good friends with her and her husband. She was very pleasant, very efficient. It's a shock to learn of her death.'
• Do you have your Jiffy Lube's limited-edition Rasheed Wallace lunchbox yet? The company was considering a bobble head doll promotion but worried that if a customer called a technical on the volatile Trail Blazer, he would lose his head.