Canzano: Portland wins Women's Final Four bid, at long last
City will host 2030 event.
Portland finally got a big win. It will host the 2030 NCAA Tournament Women’s Final Four. The news broke on Monday morning. I don’t know what your first thought was, but my mind darted to Sabrina Ionescu.
She got robbed in 2020.
We all did.
The University of Oregon women’s basketball star had a magical senior season interrupted by the pandemic. The Ducks were on fire that spring, winning 19 straight games. We watched them dribble circles around Stanford in the Pac-12 title game at Mandalay Bay Event center in Las Vegas.
I usually wait to make my travel plans. There were still the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament to be played. Then, a Portland Regional to win. But Oregon was playing so dominant, and with such confidence, that I opened my laptop as the confetti fell in Vegas and booked my flight to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Three days later, the world shut down.
On Monday, the folks at Sport Oregon braced for some news. They’d bid for a women’s Final Four multiple times in recent years, repeatedly being left out. Portland was starting to look like the Charlie Brown of American sports cities — with the proverbial football being pulled out by Lucy every time the city went to kick it.
Portland’s beleaguered image didn’t help. Unfavorable news coverage, downtown chaos and broken politics created too much uncertainty. Other events skipped over the city, too.
Had enough time passed?
Did the narrative shift?
Those involved took it as a positive sign in September when the NCAA Tournament committee that visited Portland didn’t bring up the battered reputation of the city.
Nobody expressed a concern.
Nobody asked a question.
“We have a really good story and our pitch was all about why they should come and why we would be a great host,” said Jim Etzel, CEO of Sport Oregon. “Women and women’s sports are supported here, we have the best footprint with Moda Center, Memorial Coliseum and the Oregon Convention Center.”
The committee toured PDX airport and rode public transit. The visitors looked at the venues and visited the adjacent hotel property. Everything was seemingly lined up once again, but there were six other cities in the running for a series of women’s Final Four events, from 2027 through 2031.
The competition included Dallas, Indianapolis, San Antonio and Tampa. The news would be announced on Monday morning — 9 a.m. PT — and I found myself wondering if Portland would ever break through.
It’s one thing to tell a host, “I had a really nice time on my visit.” It’s quite another to say, “I had such a good time, I’m coming back and bringing 3,000 coaches and players with me.”
Portland badly needed a win. It got one on Monday. Economic impact: $25 million. Etzel and his team deserve a victory lap. So do the countless others who played roles behind the scenes. That includes Oregon State women’s basketball coach Scott Rueck and Oregon coach Kelly Graves.
Those two college coaches have built Final Four-caliber programs. The Beavers and Ducks have elevated the profile of women’s basketball, not just in the state of Oregon, but in the Pac-12 as well. A piece of Monday’s win belongs to them, too.
Still, it was “Sabrina” I thought about as the news broke.
She’s among the few athletes easily identified in our region with only a first name.
Ionescu went on to become the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft. She became an All-Star. But before that — just a month after her senior season was cut short — I told her I thought she got robbed. We all did.
“There are bigger things going on in the world,” she reminded me.
They ought to make her the grand marshal of the event.
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Absolutely make Sabrina Grand Marshal. What a win for PDX. Tip of the cap to Jim Etzel... that guy never quits!
Nice hustle, John.