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Canzano: Phil Knight Ownership Exactly What Blazers Need

The offer isn’t Knight’s first bid for an NBA franchise

Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Nike founder Phil Knight and Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Alan Smolinisky have made an offer to become the next owners of the Portland Trail Blazers. The “Woj Bomb” dropped last week, a colossal storyline adding more cinema to a pivotal offseason already buzzing with intrigue in Portland.

In a recent piece for his site, The Bald Faced Truth, columnist John Canzano detailed where the Knight-Smolinisky partnership began, weighed in on the ongoing negotiations, and revealed this isn’t the first time Oregon’s native son has pursued an NBA franchise.

According to Canzano, Knight and Smolinisky developed the ownership plan as neighbors at the Madison Club, a luxurious development in Laquinta, California. Canzano described the 84-year-old Knight and 42-year-old Smolinisky — a California-based real estate mogul — as an “interesting tandem.” Yet, he endorsed the pair as “exactly what Portland’s NBA franchise needs.”

Think of the upside of having an NBA team owned by a couple of ambitious, forward-thinking, passionate stakeholders. For the Portland-born Knight, it’s a legacy play all the way. For Smolinisky? I’ll bet he looks at the undeveloped Rose Quarter neighborhood around Moda Center and sees an entertainment-district opportunity.

Canzano called last week’s bid of more than $2 billion the “first strike” in a now-public negotiation battle with the Paul G. Allen Trust. After news of the offer broke, the Blazers announced in a brief statement, “The team remains not for sale.” Many, including Canzano, read the hard-to-get statement as a tactic to field other offers and drive up the asking price.

A source told me the target price for the Blazers is $3 billion. It’s an ambitious valuation. Forbes estimated the franchise’s value at nearly $1 billion less. However, the NBA’s domestic television rights are expected to boost revenue dramatically in 2025 and industry insiders believe the franchise is baking in that increase at a premium.

I’m fascinated by the public negotiation going on. I don’t blame the Blazers for claiming they’re not for sale. Not until they hear the right number anyway. I also don’t blame Knight and Smolinisky for firing the first public strike in the negotiation. It was a solid initial pull in this tug-of-war. I wonder if it keeps a few other potential ownership groups away.

While this is Knight’s first reported interest in owning the Blazers, Canzano wrote that Knight has been through similar negotiations in the past. More than four decades ago, in 1980, the Nike founder almost became the owner of the San Diego Clippers.

Then-Clippers owners Irving Levin and Harold Lipton believed they had a deal to sell the team to Knight in 1980. Commissioner David Stern even green lit the move. But Knight never signed paperwork and backed out. The parties ended up in court over the next several years after Levin and Lipton sued. Knight’s legal team won.

Blazers faithful will just have to wait and see if Knight gets the deal done this time around.