February 4, 2016

What About Portland?

I used to hate the NBA All-Star Game. Maybe hate's a strong word. But in years past I really had no use whatsoever for the mid-season exhibition basketball game where most of the players that I love to hate showboat while nobody (and I mean nobody) plays defense. Even when Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler were making appearances in the game over a four year span about a decade ago, I never really tuned in for very long.

Then last year everything changed. I snagged some tickets to the big events on All-Star Weekend in New York City and saw the true value of the experience. From the game itself on Sunday to All-Star Saturday night to practices to press conferences to autograph hunting all over the city, it was a non-stop weekend of NBA superstar immersion. And it was quite honestly pretty fantastic. I never could have imagined such a transformation in my attitude about something based on a frigid long weekend in America's best city (sorry, D.C. but it's true!).

Washington last hosted the All-Star Game in 2001, my first year as a Wizards season ticket holder. I didn't do much at all that weekend basketball-wise except attend the Rising Stars Challenge on Saturday afternoon. I bought a $10 (yes, you read that right) ticket at the box office and spent a couple of hours watching the rooks and sophs go back and forth while sitting one row closer to the court than now-majority owner Ted Leonsis (Ted was in his box; I was in the last row in the 100 level at what was then MCI Center in front of his box).

That year I was actually offered tickets to the All-Star Game. I think the deal from the Wizards was that if I bought 100 upper deck tickets for a regular season game and donated them to charity, they'd get me some 400 level seats for the All-Star Game. I passed, not having a spare $1,000 or more kicking around for such an indulgence at that time in my life. But after last year's All-Star experience, I started to wonder if D.C. was due for another All-Star weekend. I mean in the past 16 years since I've been a season ticket holder, both Houston and New Orleans have had the game twice. Why can't Washington get another shot? Aren't we due?

Me and Earl Monroe hanging out at All-Star Weekend 2015.
So logically, the answer to that question is NO! There are 30 teams in the league now so theoretically every team should get to host the All-Star Game once every three decades. But that's clearly not the way it works for Houston or New Orleans, so why can't Washington be an exception too? The Wizards / Bullets have hosted All-Star Weekend a total of three times in the 65 (including this year) year history of the event: 1969 (in Baltimore), 1980 (at the Caps Center in Landover, MD) and 2001 at our current arena on F Street. Maybe if the NBA waits the same 21 years between games like they did last time, maybe we get the game back here in 2022. Maybe.

Probably not. As it turns out, there are far more cities that are "due" than Washington is. In fact, it ain't even close. Boston holds the longest current All-Star Game-less streak at 52 years, including this year; 53 if you consider they aren't hosting it next year (Charlotte, NC is). Boston was home to the first and second ever NBA All-Star Games and hosted the event four of the first 14 years it was played (remember the league was a lot smaller back then). But they haven't played it in beantown again since 1964 when the league had a total of nine teams. That's a long time.

Other cities have never hosted the game at all. Oklahoma City which has been the home of the Thunder for nine years (including this one) has not yet been granted an All-Star Game. Nor has Sacramento, which has been the home of the Kings since 1985. But while the game may never have been played in those two cities before, the franchises that became the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sacramento Kings have hosted. The Thunder had the event in 1974 and 1987 as the Seattle SuperSonics and the Kings hosted All-Star Weekend in 1956 and 1966 as the Rochester and Cincinnati Royals respectively. Neither franchise has waited as long as the Celtics in Boston, although Sacto comes close.

Besides OKC and Sacramento, there are two other cities that have also never had the All-Star Game. One of these, Memphis, is a relative newcomer to the NBA, moving from Vancouver in 2001, although it seems like the Grizzlies, whose name worked way better in Vancouver, have been in that city forever. So while I feel for the Memphians who crave this event at the FedEx Forum, if I were running the show I'd put both Boston and Sacramento ahead of them. Yes, I'd put OKC at the back of the line here.

And then there's Portland. The Trail Blazers entered the NBA in 1970, 45 seasons ago, at a time when there were only 17 teams in the league. They've been in the same city under the same name for their entire history and as yet have never been awarded an All-Star Game. Since Portland entered the league, and including this year, the All-Star Game has been held in 28 different cities or metropolitan areas. Seven cities have had the game twice; three have been hosts three times; and Los Angeles (if you include Inglewood as Los Angeles) has had it four times. The game has been played in five football stadiums over that period, one city that no longer has a franchise (San Diego) and what that has never had a team located there (Las Vegas). But Portland's never had it. Not even once.

Apparently the city has put in an application to host the game in 2017 or 2018 but the NBA is concerned about the number of hotel rooms in town. It seems to me that the league could find it in it's heart to let a franchise which has been in the same place for almost 50 years have the event once, even if it means a lot of staying in the suburbs or elsewhere. There's one thing for sure: Portland's due!

Large scale graphics of jerseys at Barclays Center 2015: John Wall (woo hoo!!!) and LeBron James (BOOO!!!!!!)

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