By Nicholas Nerli
Paul Gardner Allen, the billionaire philanthropist, investor and co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation, died Oct. 15 at the age of 65 due to complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In 1975, alongside fellow co-founder Bill Gates, Allen established Microsoft, the company that revolutionized software for microcomputers, later termed personal computers. After leaving Microsoft, Allen was a titanic figure in the Pacific Northwest business community, contributing to numerous development plans and nonprofits. Allen owned the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks and was widely credited for salvaging the professional sports scene in Portland and Seattle. His generosity and reputation as a dreamer greatly benefited the Pacific Northwest, impacting the technology, humanitarianism and athletics of the region.
Allen’s interests included an end to elephant poaching, investment in science education and celebration of the arts. He supported brain and artificial intelligence research and funded Seattle’s Experience Music Project, today called the Museum of Pop Culture.
During the 1990s, Allen purchased a large portion of land in the South Lake Union district of Seattle, hoping to create a massive park modeled after New York’s Central Park. The plan was eventually defeated by city administrators, and today South Lake Union is an important business district home to Amazon, the Gates Foundation and Google’s Seattle office.
In 1988, Allen bought the National Basketball Association’s Portland Trail Blazers after fears the team would be leaving the Pacific Northwest. Later, in 2007, Allen’s privately-held company Vulcan Inc. purchased the Rose Garden (today called Moda Center) as a major investment for the Trail Blazers franchise. Since taking the helm, Allen’s Trail Blazers made the NBA playoffs 19 times and competed in the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992. Allen also owned the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and was a major shareholder in the MLS’s Seattle Sounders FC franchise. Despite his prominent role in Pacific Northwest sports, Allen was known for relatively quiet ownership, staying out of the spotlight and making an effort to keep away from any media attention. For Allen, team ownership was a hobby and a way to build community among sports fans.
Lewis & Clark has a long-standing relationship with the Portland Trail Blazers. During the 1990s, prior to having their own facility, the team practiced at Pamplin Sports Center after making a deal with the college administration. The Blazers franchise bought the first wood floor ever laid in Pamplin, a former NCAA Final Four floor that was shipped from its home in Seattle. After Allen constructed the team its own practice facility, the Trail Blazers maintained a frequent presence on campus, often playing fundraising scrimmages for charities associated with LC. Over the years, Pamplin has hosted several NBA teams who rent the gym for practices, including Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and, most recently, the Dallas Mavericks.
Senior Associate Director of Physical Education and Athletics and Head Athletic Trainer Mark Pietrok recalls the relationship between LC and the Trail Blazers, as well as benefits the college received.
“Eventually, the Trail Blazers needed their own place. There were a lot of little side perks to having the Blazers on campus, and the college got a lot of media attention because the team used our facilities,” Pietrok said.
Pietrok also notes the importance of Allen’s investment in Pacific Northwest sports, as well as his selfless philanthropy throughout Portland.
“Owning sports teams was Paul Allen’s great hobby. I think a lot of people don’t realize how philanthropic he was and the amount of charity work that goes on in the Blazers organization,” Pietrok said. “These teams are big money operations that require millions and millions of dollars, which also drops millions and millions of dollars into communities.”
Jody Allen, Paul Allen’s sister, controls her late brother’s estate, which includes ownership of the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks. Allen’s death may signify an end to regional investment, and while the details of his estate have yet to be released, his passing is a grievous loss.