Jayne: Paul Allen's differences make world more interesting

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 
photoGreg Jayne, Opinion page editor

The super rich, it would seem, are different from you and me. It's not just the yachts, or the private planes, or the villas in Monaco. It's just that, well, there's something different in their makeup and their demeanor and their way of thinking. Not better, mind you, but different.

Of course, this begets a chicken-and-egg discussion that could turn into a Ph.D. thesis. Are the super rich different because they have more money than a Third World country, or do they attain such status because they are different? We all like to think that money wouldn't change us but, frankly, most of us will never find out if that's the case. And, frankly, it would change us. Having the means to purchase your own island nation would tend to alter your perspective on the world.

Anyway, I thought about this last week as I watched Paul Allen hoist the Lombardi Trophy after his Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. I thought about this as a mercurial, megawealthy, somewhat socially awkward 61-year-old metaphorically stood on top of the world.

You see, Allen long has fascinated me. Over years of covering, at least on a peripheral basis, his Portland Trail Blazers and his Seahawks, I have come into slight contact with Allen several times, typically on the infrequent occasions when he would hold a press conference.

Which brings us to the interlude where I share an interesting Paul Allen anecdote. One time, several years ago, I attended a Blazer game in my role as sports editor, and went to leave the arena shortly after the contest. At the Moda Center, media members and players and employees enter and exit the arena via the loading dock, and as I started to walk out the door a security guard stopped me. He was peeking through the small window in the door out onto the loading dock.

"May I leave?" I asked, undoubtedly with the utmost politeness.

"Not yet," the guard said.

"Why is that?"

"Mr. Allen hasn't left the loading dock."

"Huh?"

"You have to wait until Mr. Allen leaves the loading dock."

And with that, I gleaned a little insight into Paul Allen. This was at a time when he would walk through the corridors of the arena flanked by bodyguards, a time when rumor had it that he had been receiving death threats. So maybe what I construed as paranoia was warranted. In the years since then, Allen has grown much more accessible. The bodyguards are no longer present, or at least not as conspicuous, and the interviews are more frequent.

Complex, challenging

Anyway, I thought about all of that last week as I watched Allen -- assessed by Forbes last year to be the world's 53rd richest person with wealth of $15.8 billion -- revel in his team's success. It was a long time coming, and it was well-deserved.

Allen, you see, is not only the Seahawks' owner; he is their savior. Literally. Owner Ken Behring was in the process of moving the franchise to Southern California in 1997 when Allen stepped in, bought the team and later got voters to approve construction of CenturyLink Field. With no Allen, there would be no Seahawks.

That's probably a far cry from what he envisioned when he helped found Microsoft so many years ago. Allen was the computing genius while Bill Gates was the business genius, and between them they changed the world.

Since then, Allen has spent two decades running sports franchises, building companies, donating to philanthropies, creating the Experience Music Project in Seattle, funding deep-sea exploration, and investing in brain research. "The brain is the most complex, challenging scientific puzzle we have ever tried to decode," he told The New York Times in the week prior to the Super Bowl.

So true. And so appropriate coming from a man who is a complex, challenging puzzle himself. Are the super rich different because they are rich, or is it the other way around? I'm not sure; but I'm pretty confident that Paul Allen always has been a little different from the norm, and that the world is a little more interesting because of it.