In 1996, the basketball world was changed with the founding of the Women’s National Basketball Association.
The league started with just eight teams before expanding in 1998, 1999, and again in the year 2000.
The expansion in 2000 consisted of four new teams, one of which was the Portland Fire.
Portland went just 10-22 in its inaugural season, but things were looking up.
The Fire used the No.4 pick in the 2001 WNBA Draft to select Wade Trophy winner Jackie Stiles.[embedded content]
Stiles had the city abuzz and would go on to win WNBA Rookie of Year.
However, the sun was starting to set on the franchise before it ever had a chance to rise.
At the end of the 2002 season, the league restructured, and with it the Portland Fire ceased operations.
It’s been 18 years since the league left Portland, and in that time the WNBA has added just two teams: The Chicago Sky and Atlanta Dream.
Maybe it’s finally time to add more… or at least bring an old one back.
For the last few years, Oregon has been the epicenter of women’s basketball, with both Oregon and Oregon State being among the best college programs in the country.
Civil Wars aren’t just about bragging rights anymore. They are monster showdowns between two Top-25 programs with national implications on the line.
Fans have come in by the thousands to supports the women on the court.
In 2018-19, both Oregon State and Oregon were in the Top-20 in terms of average attendance.
Comparatively, in 2019 the WNBA averaged 6,535 per game, with nearly half the league averaging less than what Oregon State averaged.
The point is, women’s basketball is thriving in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, just four teams in the WNBA averaged more than 7,000 fans per game, with one of those teams being the Seattle Storm (7,562).
If you want another point of reference for how well female sports can do in this city, look no further than the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
In 2019 the NWSL averaged 7,337 per match, a number that was inflated because the Thorns averaged an amazing 20,099 per match. That is almost as much as the No. 2, 3, and 4 teams combined.
The league as a whole brought 792,409 fans through the gates in 2019, 241,181 coming through the gates of Providence Park.
This brings us back to the WNBA.
On Wednesday night, NBC Sports Northwest aired a Trail Blazers Classic Game from the 2000 playoffs. During the broadcast there also happened to be an old ad for the inaugural season of the Portland Fire.
— Chris Burkhardt (@CBurkhardtNBCS) March 26, 2020
Fans were dealt a dose of nostalgia, and with the above tweet seemed to love the idea of the Fire coming back.
A return of the Fire wouldn’t just be a chance to see the WNBA game, it would be a chance to continue watching, in person, the players from Oregon that fans have grown to love.
Just imagine players like Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu and Satou Sabally, or Oregon State’s Mikayla Pivec and Destiny Slocum coming to play at Moda Center.
Better yet, imagine what it would be like to see any of those players playing for Portland’s WNBA team?
Expansion may not be in the WNBA’s future, but if the league ever does decide to add teams, Portland should be on the shortlist.
The year 2020 is a drastically different time in sports and a much different time for the now well-established WNBA.
If the WNBA were to come back to Portland there is little doubt it could succeed.
The Fire may have folded 18 years ago, but the love for them has not been extinguished.
Absolutely loved being the PA voice of the Fire in those days! pic.twitter.com/jyuPJBPnnt
— Curtis Long (@Principal_Long) March 26, 2020
And I’ll have my Fire towel ready to go! pic.twitter.com/1wPO6blIgL
— Sean-Louis Philipsen (@TheRealSLP) March 26, 2020
I agree!! 😁💪🏀🔥
— Ryan Knauss (@Monsta84) March 26, 2020
— John Purrett (@JohnPurrett) March 27, 2020