Trail Blazers Front Office, Players Remember Team Owner Paul Allen

by Casey Holdahl
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On October 15, Paul Allen, technologist, philanthropist and owner of both the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks, passed away at the age of 65 due to complications from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. While the Seattle native, who purchased the Trail Blazers in 1988, leaves behind a legacy that goes well beyond sports, Allen's influence on those who worked for his teams goes well beyond that of a typical owner. Here is what some of those who worked for Allen at the Trail Blazers had to say about his impact on the team and their lives.

Neil Olshey, Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations, and Chris McGowan, CEO of Vulcan Sports

On Allen's passion for the team and his other endeavors...

Neil Olshey: "The night before we left for Phoenix for the first preseason game, (Allen) was in a hospital bed and called me at like 9:15 asking if I was watching the Clipper game, and it never even occurred to me to watch the Clipper/Minnesota game opening night of preseason. It was on the heels of him already having watched out practice, watch the Milwaukee preseason game and then watch the Clipper game. I think he got a really good burst of energy during his treatment and he wanted to talk basketball. One of the things that’s really unique about Paul, I think, was everything was so bifurcated that if wanted to talk hoops, he called people that worked in hoop. If he wanted to talk music, he called Mick Jagger. If he wanted to talk football, he’d call Pete Carroll. Who else gets that? And it was fun and it was a great conversation, and it really was he just wanted to talk basketball, talk about the team, talk about where the league was, he was talking about some stuff going on around the NBA. That’s where how much he cared about, not just the Trail Blazers. but the game of basketball, meant so much to him. It was my last conversation with him other than some electronic (communication), emails and texts. It was the last time I talked to him and it was illustrative of the fact that really, that’s what our relationship was, this basketball relationship. It was on and like his internal calendar when off that the preseason was starting and he wanted to talk hoop."

Chris McGowan: "Chris: He was passionate about everything. We’d have the same conversations about, he didn’t want to just do a music-fest, he wanted to grow it into one of the best music-fests that were out there and studied all the other festivals, would frequently send emails about things he heard or things he saw. Pretty much everything he was involved in, that same passion was there for everything."

On how the team moves forward in Allen's absence...

Chris McGowan: "We’re going to move forward, try to get it back to business as usual as quick as possible. Obviously we have opening night in a couple of days and we’ve been told to continue what we’ve been doing. When he was here he entrusted us to do that and we’re here to carry on his mission and try to have an amazing season starting in a couple days."

Neil Olshey: "We’ll figure that out. Right now, our roster is set, we don’t have anything in the hopper. Obviously before it was just an email to Paul and he kind of yea or nah’d things. Right now, we’re really just trying to reconcile the loss of Paul and whatever safeguards or whatever procedures are put in place, they’ll happen. If the phone rang today and there was a huge deal, believe me, there are enough advocates for the Trail Blazers and wanting to see us do well that it would get done… There would be even more fluidity to it because of wanting to do things on behalf of Paul."

On whether Allen's leadership made Olshey a better executive...

Neil Olshey: "It did. One, you can’t rest on your laurels, Paul drove every day. The one thing about our calendar with the NBA anymore: there is no break. There might be ten days in August, right, so it didn’t matter. Whether it was Summer League, he wanted to know we were competing there. And free agency, where he would participate in recruiting meetings. So your owner is sitting there, you can’t just say ‘We went in and met with the guy.’ He wanted to know things went at Grg’s Camp in August when the guys came back in September. What it really made me do is you had to stay on top of what was going on in the organization 365 days a year, because when it came to the Blazers, he wanted to know that the stewardship that was in place was handling the way he would handle it if he had time to dedicate to it full time. And that’s what was remarkable, he really trusted the people that worked for him, but he expected them to work with the same passion and diligence in all areas, in all sports. John Snyder and I talk about this all the time up in Seattle.

"He didn’t take any of his entities for granted. Whether it was music, art, football, basketball, soccer, it didn’t matter, so it really did keep you on your toes. You didn’t get to kind of take the path of least resistance when it came to building the roster. He would talk as much about late second round picks or the 15th roster spot. Terry joked with me what it would take for me to actually come into the season with only 14 guys on the roster because Paul always felt there’s got to be one more guy. The money doesn’t matter, there’s got to be one more guy that you need. Like, there’s got to be somebody out there that can help us if we need. If three guys get hurt, isn’t there somebody? And bring them through and we did the two-way contracts. He really wanted to make sure no stone was unturned when it came to building the roster. When you’ve got someone driving you like that every day, in the beginning, you’re more reactive to them and then what happens is, just through osmosis, it takes over where you’re trying to stay ahead of him and anticipate what he’s going to come up with next so you’re prepared with the answer to build confidence on his end… Watching how it was handled and presenting to him and making sure the draft or free agency, he believed in the decisions and recommendations we were making because he saw the due diligence behind the scenes that he didn’t feel like he had to step in that fill that void."

Terry Stotts, Trail Blazers Head Coach

Terry Stotts: "It’s a very sad day, obviously, for everybody. He was an extraordinary man, literally changed the world and continued to change the world with all of his endeavors and his diverse interests. His leadership of the team was inspirational. He was always looking for a better way to do things. He did that with us, he did that with most of his business and endeavors. On a personal note, I was very fortunate to have known him and to have worked for him. He’s very passionate about the Blazers, that came through any time he was around. You guys saw him at the games, in the draft. He loved the Blazers and his commitment to the Blazers and the city of Portland was exceptional. It really cannot be overstated."

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers Point Guard

Damian Lillard: "The first thing that I think of is every time I saw him, when he came to the practice facility I would expect it to be like ‘Dame, how’s the team doing? What’s going on?’ but he would always ask me how I was doing. Even when I met with him last season at the arena, the first 15 minutes I was there he was asking me how I was doing. It’s saddening to know that a great person like that had to go. That’s the best way to put it."

On the upcoming season opener versus the Lakers..

Damian Lillard: "I think the best thing we could do is go out there and play in his honor, try to, I guess, do it for him. But I don’t think it would do us any service if we go out there with our heads down worried about it, let it wear on us too much, it’ll effect our performance. I think the best thing we could do is go out there and play for him."

Meyers Leonard, Trail Blazers Power Forward/Center

Meyers Leonard: "We’ve been here seven years now, Paul has always been very, very kind to me. Talk about travel, talk about the team, just his passion for the Trail Blazers, for giving back, he was a special man. It was an honor to know him."

"I recall him being there early in my career for like Summer League, I always thought that was cool, to have a guy obviously with a lot of status, a lot of money but clearly that is invested in the team, in the organization, cares about the players. We were talking today as a team, he cares… It’s a tough time right now, definitely, for Rip City. He was a special man."