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The Quiet Owner: Paul Allen

The understated owner of the Portland Trail Blazers and the Seattle Seahawks doesn't do Dancing with the Stars, doesn't throw public tantrums and doesn't constantly threaten to move his teams. So why is it again that he's considered the weird one?

Posted: Tuesday November 27, 2007 11:28AM; Updated: Friday November 30, 2007 9:23AM
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Behind a cloak of anonymity in his Emerald City offices, Allen oversees a sporting empire that entertains the Pacific Northwest.
Behind a cloak of anonymity in his Emerald City offices, Allen oversees a sporting empire that entertains the Pacific Northwest.
Brian Lanker/SI
• Q&A with writer L. Jon Wertheim 

By L. Jon Wertheim

It was only a preseason game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Seattle SuperSonics. But the doughy Blazers fan in the catacombs of the Rose Garden was walking excitedly toward the courtside entrance. Though he was a couple of months from turning 55, he resembled nothing so much as an awestruck boy lucky enough to have scored sweet seats to his first game. Wearing wire-rimmed glasses, a tight-fitting blue corduroy jacket, black slacks and black loafers, he smiled as he made his way out of the tunnel. When he shuffled past the Blazers' bench three minutes into the first quarter, he stared for several seconds at the tall men before settling into his front-row seat behind the baseline.

He was flanked by his new buddy Kevin and his old college roommate Bert. Even as they conversed, the fan didn't divert his strikingly blue eyes from the action on the court. He smiled when the Blazers scored and grimaced when they didn't. After a sensational play he'd jerk his head up and look eagerly at the replay. When Gary Glitter's Rock 'n' Roll Part II came on the P.A. system after a Blazers run, the man sang along -- da-na-na... HEY! -- with a tentative fist pump. When a courtside waitress approached during a timeout, he requested a burger and a Coke. Let the Brahmins in the corporate suites order salmon cakes and bottled water. The fan chomped on his junk food and absentmindedly fiddled with the straw in his soda. He wasn't above swiping some fries off Bert's cardboard tray when Bert wasn't looking.

The Blazers pulled out a two-point win, and the fan glowed as he made his way back into the courtside tunnel. "Oh, boy!" he said, looking wide-eyed at some of the players as they sprinted past him toward the locker room. Oh, boy! He made no attempt to stop any of them as they went by.

But he could have. The boyish fan, Paul Allen, owns the Blazers. He also owns the Rose Garden. And he owns the NFL team up the road, the Seattle Seahawks, which makes him the only individual to solely own two teams in the U.S.'s big three sports. A high-tech demigod, Allen cofounded the world's largest computer technology corporation. He is one of the richest men in history, a figure of such dizzying wealth and eclectic tastes that he recently donated $100 million to brain research and $25 million to the search for extraterrestrial life. One could safely assume that his net worth eclipses that of all the other fans in the Rose Garden combined.

Shortly after the Blazers-Sonics game ended, instead of palling around with his players, Allen hopped on his jet and returned to his sprawling estate on Mercer Island, Wash., declining to stay at the Austin Powers-style apartment he'd built for himself and his mother in the Rose Garden rafters. He was soaring high above the Cascade Mountains and Douglas firs when, back in the Blazers' postgame locker room, another NBA owner became the topic of conversation.

"Hey!" Blazers guard Brandon Roy yelled. "You hear Cuban got kicked off Dancing with the Stars last night?"

Is there a job classification that covers a wider range of personalities than pro sports team owner? After establishing that all owners possess enormous wealth, the similarities end. The omnium gatherum includes casino mogul party dudes (Gavin and Joe Maloof), irrepressible New Economy tycoons (Mark Cuban), former car salesmen (Larry Miller) and aging hipsters known to entertain company by setting their chest hair afire (Jerry Buss). And this is only the NBA's Western Conference!

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