Portland’s WNBA past and future

So you’re saying there’s a chance?

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks to the media before the 2022 playoffs.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks to the media before the 2022 playoffs.

Photo by Candice Ward/ESPN Images

Imagine it. The year is 2024. Portland has just landed a WNBA team in the league’s latest growth venture. As the expansion draft gets underway, somehow, the New York Liberty’s star point guard Sabrina Ionescu is available. The pick is made — she’s coming back to Oregon.

Cheers go up from the watch party in Pioneer Courthouse Square. The beer is flowing at The Sports Bra. Thorns captain Sophia Smith shares a message on social media welcoming all the new ballers to the City of Roses, “This is where champions are made.”

Perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but with all the buzz, we couldn’t help but picture the possibilities. Let’s take a look at how we got here.

Our city already had a professional women’s basketball team for three seasons, from 2000 until 2002. The Portland Fire played at the then Rose Garden, and although they never posted a winning record, the team’s rookie guard Jackie Stiles would earn the WNBA Rookie of the Year Award.

When the league put its franchises up for sale, chairman Paul Allen’s financial issues put him out of the running to buy the Fire, and a deal led by Clyde Drexler and local entrepreneur Terry Emmert dissolved.

But two decades later, the timing and the money are right. The 12-team WNBA (much more stable at 26 years old) announced what is reportedly the largest single capital investment in a women’s sports league — $75 million. It’s also well known that Portland billionaire and ZoomInfo co-founder Kirk Brown is interested in purchasing a WNBA franchise.

WNBA star Sabrina Ionescu speaks at an event

Sabrina Ionescu took women’s basketball in Oregon to new heights as a Duck.

Photo by Kelly Backus/ESPN Images

Senator Ron Wyden — a Portland native and diehard Trail Blazers fan — wrote a letter in September to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert expressing why his hometown deserves a team. She responded by saying, “While we still have more work to do, please know that Portland is a market that we hold in high regard and are actively considering.”

Six teams are said to be in the running. Next steps would involve a deep dive into potential season tickets, corporate sponsors, and securing a lease for the team. We want to know, will you be watching?

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