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Portlands mystery men (for both Allen and Blazers story)

Paul Allen biography tries to shed light on the enigmatic Blazer owner

Paul Allen normally nods a hello to a sportswriter he has known for 15 years as he walks the hallway adjacent to the locker rooms on his way out of the Rose Garden after a Trail Blazer game.

The exit of Allen and his sometimes considerable entourage after games is fabled among Portland media. 'Hug the walls,' reporters are told by security as dozens of the Blazer owner's family, friends and guests are escorted out of the arena and to a waiting bus in the loading dock. This is royalty Ñ please do not stare or touch.

On this night, Allen stares straight ahead as he saunters by, accompanied only by a bodyguard. What he sees he doesn't like at all.

A Sacramento, Calif., TV sportscaster has secured the entire depth of the hallway for his postgame report after a victory by his hometown Kings, blocking traffic on both sides. 'The Blazers have long been the nemesis of the Kings in this building, but not anymore,' the sportscaster says, waxing on and on about his team.

Allen is always irritated after a defeat, but this is above and beyond. Steam all but escapes both ears as he waits impatiently, finally finding a break to sneak behind the cameras and out the door.

The vignette seems poignant after reading 'The Accidental Zillionaire: Demystifying Paul Allen,' an unauthorized biography penned by former tech and current digital entertainment writer Laura Rich.

Allen not only didn't cooperate with Rich on the book project, he pursued every avenue in an attempt to block it from publication. He also instructed his family, friends, employees and former employees not to cooperate. It was par for the course for a man who has found that immeasurable wealth can allow you to live mostly by your own rules. Rich carried on anyway, and good for her.

The book's title comes from the nickname Allen has carried for nearly a decade, the implication being that his incredible fortune is the result of his partnership with Bill Gates, with whom he co-founded Microsoft Corp. in 1973. Allen left the company in 1984 after a bout with Hodgkin's disease, but stock holdings made him one of the richest men in the country.

Allen, who sees himself as a visionary seeking a 'wired world,' has turned to various other ventures and investments in the two decades since his departure from Microsoft, many of which have folded or not done well. Thus the 'Accidental Zillionaire' moniker, which Allen understandably deplores.

But Rich is fair and evenhanded, pointing out Allen's successes and instrumental presence in the early days of Microsoft.

She details his forays into the cable TV and entertainment world and spends six pages talking about his purchase and ownership of the Trail Blazers. She writes about his relationship with tennis star Monica Seles, about a sexual harassment suit by a former employee that was settled out of court, about his love affair with music and the guitar, and about his world-renowned parties to which 'no guest was admitted without their signature on a legally binding agreement to keep all details of the affairs private.' There's too little of all that, but without the cooperation of the subject, information is hard to pin down.

I was struck by reviewers' comments on the book's jacket. 'He's an odd duck,' said one. 'A dark portrait of a lost soul,' said another.

The three or four times over the years I have had the occasion to interview Allen at length Ñ not recently, incidentally Ñ he has come across as engaging and pretty much a regular guy, which flies in the face of his reputation as someone ill at ease with the public. That said, it is clear he prefers not to deal with reporters or the man on the street, which is too bad.

If he would occasionally meet the press or even banter with fans, it would do wonders toward erasing the perception that he's a nerd so uncomfortable in the limelight, he will go to any lengths to avoid it.

After a game a couple of years ago, as the owner left his courtside seat and entered the hallway leading out of the Rose Garden, I had the audacity to ask Allen if he considered Rasheed Wallace's conduct embarrassing. He mumbled a few words and walked away. The next game, media was advised by arena security that the entrance to the hallway by which Allen makes his getaway was off-limits. Ultimate power does have its benefits.

'The Accidental Zillionaire' is not a comprehensive look at Allen's life, because Rich wasn't allowed into his inner circle. But it's worth the read, since it provides insight for the Blazer fan curious to know more about the team's eccentric owner.

Contact Kerry Eggers at

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