PORTLAND, Ore. — A single red rose was placed on the courtside seat that used to be occupied by Paul Allen, as the Portland Trail Blazers opened up a season for the first time in 30 years without their longtime owner, who died this week.
Before tipoff of their 128-119 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, Allen was remembered by the Blazers’ public address announcer as “the ultimate trail blazer” following a summary of his extraordinary life as one of the co-founders of Microsoft with his childhood friend Bill Gates.
A white spotlight was then directed from the rafters onto Allen’s seat, where the rose was accompanied by a white Blazers cap like the one he would often wear to games, as the sold-out crowd honored Allen with a moment of silence.
“I’ve been reading a lot of the tributes to Paul over the last few days and what an extraordinary man he was,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said before the game. “Not only in sports, but in the world in general. I probably, when we honor him, will just be thinking about the impact on the lives that he’s had around the world beyond basketball. Just, it was a phenomenal life, and it’s really hard to really wrap your mind around it.”
Allen had been diagnosed with cancer and died Monday at age 65.
Stotts said that he knew a far more docile Allen than the man who bought the Blazers in 1988 and presided over a team that made it to two NBA Finals in the first four years he owned the franchise.
“He was a different owner than he was when he got the team,” Stotts said. “When he got the team, when I see some of the clips of him as a 35-year-old owner, it’s reminiscent of Mark Cuban when he was passionate about it as a younger man.
“I see everybody talked about his passion; you could really feel it. When I got here, he had been an owner for 25 years, and even though he cared as much about the Blazers now as he did when he got [the team], he was so much of a fan, a different kind of fan back then.”
The Blazers wore black bands on their jerseys with Allen’s initials, PGA, in white along with a red rose. The same PGA logo was painted on the sideline of the Moda Center court near the Blazers’ bench.
Music from Allen’s band, Paul Allen and the Underthinkers, was also played during breaks in action during the game.
“All his accomplishments and the impact on millions and millions of people and the environment and the Earth and everything, I think those are the things that are hard to put into context, the magnitude of everything,” Stotts said.
An impromptu memorial was created at the iconic “Rip City” sign outside the Moda Center to pay tribute to Allen, who also owned the Seattle Seahawks and was a co-owner of the Seattle Sounders FC of MLS.
The phrase, which has since become a moniker for Portland, was born during a furious comeback by the Blazers against the Lakers in 1971, when former radio play-by-play man Bill Schonely exclaimed “Rip City, all right!” as Portland guard Jim Barnett connected on a long jump shot.
The team commemorates the phrase with an installation by the Essential Forces fountain outside the west side of the arena. “Rip City” took on a different meaning Thursday as the red and black block letters were adorned with dozens of red roses as well as floral wreaths, notes and other mementos left by those coming to pay their respects to Allen.
“It was devastating,” said Ed Pulanco, 59, who works in guest services for the Blazers and arrived to the game early to take a photo of the memorial. “Today really concerned me, because it’s the opener, opening day. And he’s not here. I don’t know. I might become teary-eyed for that. It’s really sad. It’s very sad.”
Pulanco, who has been an usher at Blazers games since 2008, wore a black satin jacket to the game with the Blazers’ pinwheel logo over his uniform.
“To tell you the truth, I’m grateful, because of him, I have a job. So, I owe him. That’s why I’m here, because of him,” Pulanco said. “Otherwise, this arena wouldn’t be built or anything. Being a wealthy person, you can finance those things and help people. So, I owe him. … I’ve been doing it for 10 years. Exactly 10 years last month. So, I owe him 10 years.”