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WNBA halts Portland expansion plan as negotiations break down

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks to the media before Game 1 of the 2023 WNBA Finals on Oct. 8. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

While WNBA expansion to Portland had been characterized as “close to a done deal” in early October, the league’s plan to add a 14th team in Oregon has been halted.

When the Oregonian published its initial report on the WNBA coming to Portland, sports columnist Bill Oram even pledged: “If I’m wrong about this one, I’ll eat my throwback Natalie Williams Portland Power jersey.”

Oram will have to eat his words, if not his jersey. The WNBA “has shelved” the Portland expansion, he reported Wednesday, as negotiations with entrepreneur Kirk Brown broke down late in the process.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert addressed a letter Wednesday to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, in which she called Portland “an ideal destination for a WNBA franchise” but pointed to the planned renovation of the proposed arena as a sticking point.

“In light of the potential renovation of the Moda Center currently anticipated to take place during consecutive summers, consideration of a WNBA franchise for Portland will be deferred for now until the timing and scope of the arena improvements are settled,” Engelbert wrote.

When the WNBA announced its expansion to the San Francisco Bay Area in early October, discussions surrounding a Portland team were in the late stages, even reaching the league’s Board of Governors.

The Bay Area team, which is under the umbrella of the Golden State Warriors ownership group, will be the 13th team in the league. The team is set to start play in 2025.

While Engelbert would not comment on the progress with Portland at the time of the Bay Area team was announced, she did say: “Our goal is to have a 14th team by 2025.”