Highlights From Portland Trail Blazers Owner Paul Allen's Book

On Tuesday, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's much-anticipated new book, Idea Man, goes on sale. While the book is a full memoir covering his career at Microsoft and a wide variety of his interests, Chapter 14 is entitled "Blazermania" and is an account of his time as owner of the Portland Trail Blazers.

In the chapter, Allen outlines his ownership philosphy: "I've tried to strike a balance as team owner, to be involved and accountable while preserving my executives' freedom to shape the roster. My job is oversight, not execution. While I sign off on trades or free agents, I've rarely overruled my basketball people's decisions. But I'm not shy about steering the discussion or pushing deeper if something doesn't make sense to me."

After cataloguing the successes and failures of the Bob Whitsitt era, Allen says that his approach to winning has changed. His goal now: "Building a contender the old-fashioned way, the way it was done in the Walton-Lucas era or with the Drexler editions. Before we add a new player, we ask ourselves: How would he fit? Does he work hard? Will he balance his ego with the needs of the team? If we can't answer yes to all of the above, we don't do the deal."

Allen also goes into a fair bit of financial detail about the Blazers. He says he purchased the team for $65 million after making a "handshake deal" with previous owner Larry Weinberg and that he sunk "more than a half billion dollars in the franchise" prior to filing for bankruptcy to restructure the Rose Garden deal.

By the end of the chapter, Allen is advocating for a more level playing field between small market and big market teams. "We're doing just about everything right, but we're still losing money," Allen writes. And, due to contract extensions for Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers "won't be turning a profit anytime soon, a fact that speaks volumes about the plight of smaller-market franchises in the NBA." He points out that the NBA has yet to address the "big market / small market discrepancy" in revenue generating potential and says that in his "perfect world" the NBA would be a place where "the most successful NBA teams wouldn't necessarily be those with the biggest local television markets or corporate-suite bases."

Perhaps most interestingly, Allen says that he met with NBA commissioner David Stern in New York City when the Rose Garden was in bankruptcy to discuss his options. Stern's response: "Well, you can always sell your team."

Here's a short list of other highlights and tidbits from the chapter.

  • Allen on Bob Whitsitt: "There were too many times when Whitsitt operated like a rotisserie-league GM, piling up players with gaudy numbers." He also calls Whitsitt "a great rationalizer."
  • Allen says that former GM Kevin Pritchard "had a good gut for gauging young talent" but that he "struggled in the managerial parts of his job." 
  • Allen says GM Rich Cho is part of "a leadership team that can get us back to the Finals."
  • Allen claims that he beat Clyde Drexler and Kiki Vandeweghe in a game of H-O-R-S-E at his home in Seattle but that they went easy on him. Allen says he "got too close" with Drexler and that Portland's All-Star guard would call him "for years afterwards" in the middle of the night to talk about hoops and complain about the size of his contract. Allen claims Bucky Buckwalter told him that he could trade Drexler for Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon but that he told Buckwalter to pass because "my ties to Clyde affected my judgment."
  • Allen on Michael Jordan: "I've seen just one other person up close who compared to him, who wanted not only to beat you but to crush you if he could. Those two stood apart for raw competitiveness: Michael Jordan and Bill Gates."
  • Allen calls the 2000 Western Conference Finals "a crushing defeat, and it took me a long, long time to get over it."

Buy the book here.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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