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Walling: NBL a positive for Canada, if done right

Alex J. Walling
5/13/2011 1:48:04 PM
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It's not everyday that one sees the formation of a new professional basketball league.  That took place in Halifax on Thursday  when the National Basketball League of Canada was born.

The prime movers behind this new initiative are Halifax Rainmen owner Andre Levingston and Saint John Mill Rats president Ian McCarthy.  They had enough of the ABA (American Basketball Association) and the PBL (Premiere Basketball League) so they started their own league.

"It's time we look at teams from our own country and try to make this work," Levingston told TSN.ca.  "We plan to have seven or eight teams at the start up and maybe more."

The Halifax Rainmen, Saint John Millrats and Quebec Kebs are the confirmed teams in the new league right now.

In addition to the Maritime based teams there is strong interest from another Maritime centre in Moncton and from London, Barrie, Kingston, Oshawa, Windsor and Kitchener-Waterloo.

"We have letters of intent from several places and lots of interest in from others," says McCarthy.

There also will be a Canadian content component as two of the players from each team must be Canadian.  "We reach out to CIS players to join this league and become available for a draft," says Levingston.

This league was created as a result of the disappointments suffered by the Halifax Rainmen over the last three seasons, first in the ABA and then the PBL.  The Quebec and Saint John team, formerly the Manchester, NH Millrats, had been in the ABA for two years and they had many issues with the leagues.

"These leagues simply weren't strong enough to give us what we wanted," Levingston told TSN.ca.

He's being very kind.

Players not showing up, teams folding, franchises here one day gone another were the norm for the ABA while the PBL proved to be a little more stable they had their issues with a team folding in season each of the two years that Halifax was in.

Levingston was simply not pleased about the lack of professionalism these leagues provided.

The league will play a fall-winter schedule which is different than in the PBL where they started in January and ran into spring.

Interest is strong enough that there was representation from London, Kingston and Barrie at the initial media conference.

Mauro DiVito represents the Barrie franchise and is very enthused.   "Basketball is played by kids all over this country.  We are looking forward to joining."

A representative from London told TSN.ca "everywhere you go you see hoops in the driveway and basketball is a 12 month a year sports with someone always playing it indoors or out.  I feel London is ready for pro basketball."

The league calls itself the first full time Canadian basketball league but that could be challenged by the All-Canadian Basketball league that started in the late 80's and folded less than two years later.

The World basketball league was the league that saw the Halifax Windjammers thrive and had Winnipeg and Saskatoon as Canadian cities in it.

In fact, Halifax has led just about every league it has been involved in from the World league to the National basketball league to the ABA to the PBL.

Attendance in the first Windjammers season back in 1991 was over six-thousand including several sell outs in the Metro Centre which seats around 10,000.

Levingston's team was first or second in ABA and PBL attendance with 4000.

Ian McCarty feels it will take an attendance of 2500 to break even.
One of the guests for this event was Sam Mitchell; the former Raptors head coach, who likes the idea of an all-Canadian league.

"Why not?  It's a global game and there are so many players available to stock the teams and this league. It is a good concept for this country," the former Raptor coach told TSN.ca.

The league plans to have things in place by June 15th.   There will be a league office and it will be, for corporate reasons, in Toronto.

Mike Doyle who was part of the Halifax Windjammers in the 90's says this may work.

"If they can cut travel expenses which are the biggest cost then they have a shot.

"Teams fly to Toronto from the Maritimes and head out to Kingston, Oshawa and the other centers that are nearby.  And the same for the Ontario teams should they land in Halifax and do Saint John, Moncton (should they join the league) and Halifax.  It has lots of potential."

Saint John, Quebec and Halifax have a solid core of fans and have survived three years of minor pro ball and Levingston has learned that any ownership groups must have the necessary capital.

Stability is paramount.  Halifax has been in two leagues in three years.  Halifax is not a problem, the leagues have been. 

This time they get to do it right.

A divisional set up would be nice with a Maritime / Quebec division and an Ontario in another.   Some inter-division play with some games would be scheduled.

The bottom line is as many have suggested, there are so many that play this game.  We have an NBA team in the Raptors, but this game is played by boys and girls, men and women alike all over this country.

I find it interesting that many of these centers are in university towns such as Kingston (Queens), London (Western), Quebec City (Laval) and Halifax (Dal and Saint Mary's).  You could say they have a ready built in market.

Minor basketball, notably the USA version, has had rough and tough times over the years. 

This, if done right can only be a positive step.

For TSN.ca I'm Alex J Walling

Alex J can be reached via email at:  ajw@eastlink.ca




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