For the first time since the team moved into the Rose Garden next door in 1995, this season the Portland Trail Blazers will play a game in their original home: Memorial Coliseum.
Granted it's a preseason game, but who cares?
This is the building where Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas and company became world champions on June 5, 1977. It's where the team first took the court in 1970 behind star rookie Geoff Petrie. It's where Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter broke the team scoring and assist records during the same 1986-87 campaign, only for Drexler to break the scoring record again two years lter. And it's where the Trail Blazers established the longest streak of sold-out games in American professional sports history: 814 straight games from 1977 until the team moved to the Rose Garden in 1995.
The preseason game will be agaist Phoenix, the last team the Blazers played in the Coliseum before the move. That also makes me think of one of the greatest all-time Blazer games, played in the Coliseum during the 1990 Western Conference Finals, in which Drexler and company overcame a 23-point fourth quarter deficit to win.
Besides Blazer history, Memorial Coliseum is also where UCLA won the 1965 Final Four behind coach John Wooden, who yesterday was named by The Sporting News as the greatest coach in American sports history. It's also where the first-ever American Olympic basketball team made of professional players, the "Dream Team", played is inaugural game, a 79-point victory over Cuba that I was lucky enough to attend.
The exhibition game will be held on October 14, so by that time of year it's likely the sun will have set by a 7:00 or 7:30 tipoff. Even so, it woud be an extra-special treat for the game at Memorial Coliseum to be held with the upper seating bowl curtain open, so fans attending the game can look out through this entirely transparent glass palace at the Portland downtown skyline.
The Blazers franchise has a difficult task ahead of it if they wind up being the ones overseeing the Rose Quarter redevelopment. There's not only the Coliseum's future to figure out and how it relates to the Rose Garden, but there's the broader need to transform the whole Rose Quarter itself, from the untapped resource of a riverfront setting to the fact that an ugly parking garage acts as the front door. They're also working with developer, The Cordish Company, that is not known for crafting authentic, local business-oriented developments that welcome people of all ethnicities.
Even so, it's encouraging to know that Blazers president Larry Miller and his front office team seem to understand that so many of us, Blazer fans and design enthusiasts and those with civic pride in historic places (many of which overlap), care a great deal about Memorial Coliseum.
This isn't about the ongoing dilemma of where to put a minor league baseball stadium, or whether an invasion of Applebees and Hard Rock Cafe (or even something good like a sports museum) could come to the Rose Quarter. It's about celebrating the past, both in sports and in architecture, as the city prepares to re-imagine this glass palace. It's also about celerating the rich, nearly 40-year history of our beloved Blazers with the team returning to its roots.