Fear and loathing in Portland

By Brad Bowlin
Sports Editor

PORTLAND, Ore. - A rose by any other name is still a rose, but Portland's Rose Garden - the new mega-complex home of the NBA Trailblazers - doesn't smell nearly so sweet.

In fact, the major scent in this monument to sports greediness is that of money - lots of it. For those of you who dream of someday taking your son or daughter (or, heaven forbid, your whole family) to a professional sporting event, read on.

I was in Portland last month for a sports editors conference. The first night coincided with a Jazz-Blazers game, and the media types had a shot at discount tickets. I went one step further and arranged to get a media pass in hopes of interviewing former Twin Falls High School star and current Jazz benchwarmer Andy Toolson.

Well, somebody's wires got crossed and I found myself 15 minutes before tipoff standing in the drizzle outside the ticket window with no pass, no ticket and no umbrella. (I know, November in Portland, you'd think a college graduate would bring an umbrella.)

After reviewing my options (buy a ticket or trudge back to my motel for a hot shower and cable TV), I sidled up to the ticket window.

"How much for a single ticket?" I asked, recalling that the Blazers at the time had the NBA's longest consecutive sellout string.

"I've got a single seat for $45," said the "customer service" representative behind the window.

I gulped. "Gee, where does that put me," I wondered. Behind the opposing bench? Maybe I can get that interview with Toolson after all. Tap him on the shoulder between quarters - "Hey Andy, remember me? Twin Falls High School, 1984? No, I didn't play, but I wrote for the school paper."

"That seat would be right in here," the ticket seller said, pointing vaguely to a map of the arena. Around midcourt, probably too far for a personal chat with the only former Bruin in the NBA, but at least it wasn't behind a backboard.

"I'll take it."

For $45, I got to sit in the second-to-last row. From that distance, it was hard to tell Karl Malone from PeeWee Herman during the pre-game shootaround.

Of course, the huge color video monitor hanging from the ceiling gave that up-close-and-personal feeling - rather like cable TV.

My seat was a bargain as it turns out. For a spot on the floor, I would have had to shell out $298. And for $999, I could have skipped to the luxury box level, complete with self-contained restaurants and a trendy bar.

"Geez," I thought, looking at the sold-out arena. "People shell out this kind of cash for the Blazers?" I mean, this isn't exactly the Dream Team. Maybe $45 was not too much for a binocular's-eye view of Clyde Drexler when he was here, but Arvydas Sabonis? Maybe for David Robinson, but Cliff Robinson? Gimme a break.

I shelled out $30 to a scalper for bad seats at the Los Angeles Sports Arena years ago to watch the Lakers and Clippers, but that was Kareem, Magic, Byron Scott and James Worthy. Showtime. World Champions. This is Dudley, Trent and McKie. Larry, Moe and Curly.

To add insult to penury, the price of food and beverage was enough to make a gourmet blush. Five-dollar beers, $4 veggie burgers, $3 french fries - and $2 for a licorice rope, for crying out loud!

So we working stiffs can forget about taking the family out to a ballgame. Figure it out. Say two parents and a couple of kids are able to cop some really inexpensive seats - $25 per - and figure on a burger, fries and soda for each, plus $10 parking and you're up to $150. Plane fare? Souvenirs? A trip to the zoo the next day? You'll be lucky to have enough cash left over to buy junior a basketball for Christmas.

And those $999 luxury box seats? They're sold out for Portland's next home date - Thursday against the Toronto Raptors.

Sure makes cable TV look good.

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