This summer would mark the 20th Anniversary of the Portland Fire’s inaugural season in the WNBA.
The Fire joined the Women's National Basketball Association in 2000 as the counterpart to the Portland Trail Blazers while playing all of their home games at the Rose Garden. The team folded; however, after just three seasons in the league.
To celebrate what would’ve been 20 years in the league, NBC Sports Northwest is releasing a three-part documentary series on the Portland Fire.
While catching up with former players, coaches and employees of the organization, one thing kept coming up:
Fire fans were loud, proud, and there were many of them.
Former guard Tully Bevilaqua reminisced about playing in Portland.
“Oh I loved it,” Bevilaqua said of her time in Portland. “The city itself was beautiful. It was a nice easy going pace, not that hustle and bustle type city so that was definitely appealing to me, very scenic -- going up on that drive, seeing the mountain tops there, especially with the snow peaks on them it was just awesome, so picturesque.”
In 2000, Bevilaqua signed as a free agent contract with the Fire and played with them for three seasons until the franchise folded after the 2002 season. She eventually went on to win a WNBA Championship with the Seattle Storm in 2004.
Fire fan favorite Jackie Stiles says she was in awe of the fan support in the Rose City.
It was phenomenal. Oh my gosh, the Rose Garden -- what an amazing, amazing environment and facility. And our fans in Portland were great. I know I’m biased, but I felt like we had the best fans in the league. We really drew pretty well and I think we were towards the top in attendance, or I felt that way... Maybe there were just louder, but I loved our fans. They were incredible. -- Jackie Stiles on the Portland Fire fan base
Over their three seasons in the league, the Fire posted an overall record of 37-59.
Stiles, who was selected fourth-overall by Portland in the 2001 WNBA Draft, earned Rookie of the Year on August 16, 2001.
There’s no doubt that the love between the players and Fire fans was mutual.
“The sporting community was, I mean, you had obviously the Blazers -- they were very popular in town. So, there was a passion for it and we became a part of the community,” Bevilaqua said. “It was a great town and obviously you’ve got the Nike campus there as well, so I mean, that was huge just the passion for sports in the city… You could feel it. You could feel it in the air… When you run through the tunnel, and you hear the screams… the hairs on the back of your neck start standing up just thinking about it again.”
Yes, it’s true, Rip City has a lot for people to do and see; it just needs a WNBA team back to really have it all.
You can check out Part 1 of ‘What Happened to the Portland Fire’ right here.
We will roll out Part 2 of 'What Happened to the Portland Fire' on June 30 right here on our website, while Part 3 will be released the following Tuesday, July 7.