PORTLAND, OR -- A group hoping to bring a professional women’s basketball team back to Portland met Monday with the WNBA Commissioner, trying to convince her the Rose City deserves an expansion team. Portland lost its first WNBA team - the Portland Fire - back in 2002, after just three seasons.
Trail Blazers Director of Basketball Strategy and former WNBA player Asjha Jones says now is the right time to bring another team to the Moda Center, "Just walk around, you can just feel that people just love their sports here. I was able to go out and support and watch regular season and playoff games, and just the vibe in the stadium is crazy. And it just gives you goosebumps because you know this city is really, really, really invested in sports. I mean, what else are they going to do? They can’t be outside; it's raining. So, they need something to do that’s indoors. Why not add another team to the mix?"
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden hosted the meeting with Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and a list of Oregon sports VIPs at the country’s first sports bar dedicated to women’s sports - called “The Sports Bra.” He told Engelbert a local team would be an economic boon, "It would be huge for the Sports Bra and scores of vendors in our city that would be making sales of equipment and helping their small businesses. You heard this incredible enthusiasm already. Just imagine you would see this multiplied by big crowds 20 more times a season at Moda."
Oregon Ducks and OSU Beavers Women’s Basketball coaches showed a united front at the event. OU Coach Kelly Graves said, I think this is a no-brainer. I mean, Portland is a great, great city, great people, great fans. And you would have 100% support from the Ducks." OSU Coach Scott Rueck added, "There is a passion for this sport that runs so deep and we love basketball in the state of Oregon. We love women’s sports and we love girls' sports."
General Manager of the Portland Thorns Karina LeBlanc says the community is ready, "And they’re not just ready to come once - this is 10 years with the Thorns, that we’ve consistently seen the numbers show up." Trail Blazers GM Joe Cronin was also there, and says the idea has his team's full support.
Engelbert told the gathered crowd the WNBA's business plan includes new teams, "We have 12 teams in a country of over 300 million people. That is not enough. So, that’s why we do talk about expansion. You have to be in more cities to grow more fandom." But she tells KBND News there’s a lengthy launch process, due to media rights and other administrative planning needs, and Portland is one of several cities under consideration, "In the next two to three, four years I’d like to have two new teams."
Engelbert says she is impressed with the level of support she sees in Oregon.
Photos: (top) Sen. Wyden and Commissioner Engelbert speak at the Sports Bra in Portland. (above) A local middle school team shows support for a WNBA team in Portland.