A notable recluse and introvert, the Trail Blazers late owner represented our quiet fear

Will Darkins
October 17, 2018 - 8:04 am

The Willamette River released a wave of liquid chaos on Portland in January of 1996, in form of a flood. Eight Oregonians died and 3,000 residents were displaced. My family of four were part of the latter. Memories from 96’  are mostly opaque (Damn concussions) and only become clear with pictures; a boat ride down the street to my home, dilapidated bile stained furniture, parents crying. The only clear recall was a two year stay in our three bedroom apartment.

One memory in particular lands on a Friday night in October. Mom and Dad got ritzy on our asses and bought ... BLAZER VISION! For anyone unfamiliar, this was a paid service to watch Blazer home games. Weren’t the 90’s neat?!?!? I don’t remember the score, or the opponent. I don’t even remember if Jermaine O’Neil saw minutes (I assume the answer is, no).

All that sticks is the image of a balding, hunched over fan sitting in the first row. Behind his Members Only Jacket and light adjusted specs was a face I knew. It was a visage of fear and uncertainty. I adopted mine after losing our family home to a flood. Paul Allen had been wearing his since 1982.

Six years after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the Microsoft Co-Owner bought the Portland Trail Blazers for $70 million, in 1988 (In 2015, Forbes valued the franchise at $940 million). Allen saw over development and funding of the Rose Garden and helped build a team that made two NBA Finals appearances.

At the time, most people viewed the purchase in stark contrast to his public persona. He was considered the Idea Man (Also the name of his autobiography) compared to his cut-throat business partner, Bill Gates. Quiet, reserved, with a passion for coding,  Allen met Gates when they were teenagers attending the same Seattle private school. The next six years would see them quit college and form Microsoft (in Albuquerque of all places). During that time, Allen was exposed to the pragmatic truths of capitalist tendencies. In a 2011 interview with The New York Times, he recounted eavesdropping on a conversation between Gates and then business manager, Steve Ballmer, seen here eye humping another man’s hot dog, while eating a hot dog:

Mr. Allen writes that in December 1982, after he learned he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he overheard Mr. Gates and Mr. Ballmer plotting to rob him of his due.

“They were bemoaning my recent lack of production and discussing how they might dilute my Microsoft equity by issuing options to themselves and other shareholders,” Mr. Allen said.

Mr. Allen said he burst into the room and confronted the two men, shouting: “This is unbelievable! It shows your true character, once and for all.”

Mr. Allen said that they later apologized, but that he had already decided to leave the company.

Fear and uncertainty would continue to follow Allen after leaving Microsoft in November of 2000. He would create three software companies (Asymetrix/Starwave/Metricom) that failed, a physical “idea lab” (...?) and the famous dumpster fire, Charter Communications, which cost $8 billion. From 2000-2007 Allen would also absorb the failures of a Portland Trail Blazers franchise riddled with losses and arrests. But each Fall he would return to his courtside perch dawning a steady optical armor from the persistent disease eating his life away.

His glazed stare embodied the soft fear persisting in the back of our minds. “Will I get fired?” “ Is there enough for the mortgage?”  “Why aren’t I successful?” “Will this flood ruin our lives?” Most average folk will never relate to the success Paul Allen built. We can only follow his example and learn to live with fear. In my case, put a on raincoat and ask, “What water?”

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