Portland said goodbye to women’s professional basketball just over 20 years ago. Now, local politicians, sport leaders, and the WNBA commissioner herself are stoking the fire for a possible return to Rose City.
*Insert deafening applause here*
Growing fandom is at the top of the WNBA’s agenda, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said during her visit to Portland this week where she met with US Sen. Ron Wyden, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University women’s basketball coaches, and execs representing the Trail Blazers and Portland Thorns.
The group’s mission? To convince Engelbert that Portland would be the perfect host for a WNBA team.
“This is a city that supports women,” said Thorns General Manager Karina LeBlanc. “Leading a women’s team that understands their purpose and their reason in the city, they want another sisterhood to do that with.”
The WNBA is looking to add up to two new franchises and Portland is one of ~20 cities vying to host a team. Financial backing and community support for NCAA sports are the biggest factors under consideration. “Can you imagine the competition between women in Portland and women in Seattle?” said Wyden. “That will be vintage Pacific Northwest basketball.”
Engelbert said the new team(s) could be added within a few years.
Here’s a quick timeline of Portland’s professional women’s basketball history.
1996-1998: Before the WNBA was born, the Portland Power played in the American Basketball League.
2002-2002: The Portland Fire played in the WNBA for three seasons, finishing with 37 wins in 96 games and never qualifying for the playoffs. But the team enjoyed huge fan support with more than 8,000 people attending each home game.
September 2022: Wyden sent letters to Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, advocating for WNBA expansion to Portland. Such a move “would be a slam-dunk success for the city and the league,” he wrote.