The Wall Street Journal Gets Inside Phil Knight’s Pursuit of the Trail Blazers

Oregon’s richest man has tried valiantly to buy the state’s most visible sports franchise, according to a lengthy new account from The Wall Street Journal.

Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his partner, the real estate investor Alan Smolinsky, have been ardent suitors of the Portland Trail Blazers, writes WSJ reporter Rachel Bachman (a former Oregonian staffer), but Jody Allen, the executor of the estate left by her late brother, Blazers’ owner Paul Allen and her right-hand man, Bert Kolde, have played hard to get.

“In several separate phone conversations with Kolde, people familiar with the situation say, Smolinisky and Knight laid out their vision to keep the Blazers in Portland forever,” Bachman writes. “They would invest in the team to make it a championship contender. They would boost the fan experience off the court by improving the area around the arena, according to people familiar with their thinking.”

For Blazer fans accustomed to seeing their team make the playoffs, the past two years of futility—and tanking—have been hard to swallow. Knight, who turned 85 earlier this year, has built a fortune Bloomberg pegs at $40 billion and while he is giving chunks of it away, he’s reportedly eager to hand Allen a big chunk of his money. Added bonus: his partner, Smolinsky, who is part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is eager to apply the real estate development skills that built his fortune to the moribund neighborhood around the Moda Center. (It did not strike observers as coincidental that Allen recently pledged $400 million to restore the Albina neighborhood.)

And per the terms of Paul Allen’s estate, the team must be sold and the proceeds turned over to charity.

What’s not to like? Well, Jody Allen told the WSJ the Blazers are not yet for sale.

“Knight’s conversations with Kolde hit a wall,” Bachman writes. “And Kolde didn’t explain why the Blazers weren’t for sale.”