Paul Allen — owner of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers — died on Monday in Seattle. He was 65.
In a statement, his family said Allen died from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Allen was originally diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1982, and in 2009, underwent chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Although it had been in remission for years, two weeks ago, Allen announced that the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma had returned, and expressed optimism in his ability to beat the disease.
Most owners of professional sports franchises are relatively unknown individuals who become well-known only when they first purchase their teams. This was not the case with Allen.
In 1975 — after seeing a Popular Mechanics magazine cover showing an early microcomputer — Allen persuaded his high school friend Bill Gates to drop out of Harvard University and join him in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where a startup company called MITS had built what is now credited as the first personal computer.
The MITS machine lacked software, and Allen and Gates — who in high school had spent time programming mainframe computers through time-sharing terminals — convinced the company they were the team to write it. Allen dubbed their partnership Micro-Soft, and in 1980, the company landed the biggest fish in the ocean, making a deal to provide the operating system software for IBM personal computers.
Although there are many individuals who were instrumental in developing the technology you are using to read this article, Allen’s name is certainly on a very short list among them, as acknowledged in a statement issued by current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella:
Paul Allen’s contributions to our company, our industry and to our community are indispensable. As co-founder of Microsoft, in his own quiet and persistent way, he created magical products, experiences and institutions, and in doing so, he changed the world.
Because of his recently-diagnosed illness — and reported differences with Gates — Allen left Microsoft in the early 1980s, although he remained on the company’s board until 2000. His personal wealth — estimated in the tens of billions of dollars — funded many philanthropic causes in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Some — such as the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle — reflected his personal interests.
In 1988, he purchased the Trail Blazers. In 1997, he bought the Seahawks. In both cases, he bought the teams to prevent them from being moved to larger markets, and pledged to keep them there — as emphasized by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in his statement on Allen’s death:
Paul Allen was the driving force behind keeping the NFL in the Pacific Northwest. His vision led to the construction of CenturyLink Field, and the building of a team that played in three Super Bowls, winning the championship in Super Bowl XLVIII. The raising of the ’12th Man’ flag at the start of every Seahawks home game was Paul’s tribute to the extraordinary fan base in the Seattle community. His passion for the game, combined with his quiet determination, led to a model organization on and off the field. He worked tirelessly alongside our medical advisers to identify new ways to make the game safer and protect our players from unnecessary risk. I personally valued Paul’s advice on subjects ranging from collective bargaining to bringing technology to our game. Our league is better for Paul Allen having been a part of it.
Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt expressed his admiration for Allen in a statement.
My family and I are deeply saddened by Paul’s passing. Paul was a visionary, and his ideas and innovations had a profound impact on American life. He was a humble leader, a generous philanthropist and fiercely devoted to the Seattle community and his beloved team. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Seahawks and his family during this difficult time.
Allen never married and has no children. He is survived only by his sister Jody Allen.
What will happen with regard to his ownership of the Seahawks and Trail Blazers is not yet known. The two teams are estimated to be worth more than $3.6 billion.