While the NHL is stuck in a season-killing contract dispute, Ottawa has symbolically traded in the ice for the hardwood following the announcement of the city’s first professional basketball team.
Accepting an offer from motivational speaker and entrepreneur Gus Takkale, the National Basketball League of Canada announced on Nov. 21 the expansion of its league to Ottawa. The team will tip off in the 2013-14 season.
Ottawa’s sports scene is booming. The basketball team is one of five new sports teams that will soon call Ottawa home. With the addition of the still-unnamed basketball club, the city will also welcome a professional soccer and a double-A professional baseball team as well as the return of CFL football to the redeveloped Lansdowne Park and the revival of Carleton Ravens football by 2014.
While some fans may stress over which team to root for, Ian McCarthy, the NBL’s chief operating officer, says the new sports organizations will complement each other rather than compete.
“Each sport has its own core of followers,” McCarthy says. “It’s another night out on the town for fans.”
Impressed by the media coverage surrounding the new team, McCarthy says having a team in the capital is a big plus for the league. Highlighting what he calls a combination of great ownership and a superb venue, he sees the team as a good fit for Ottawa.
After gaining huge public support and selling more than 11,000 season tickets, Ottawa became a self-proclaimed hockey town with the birth of the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators in 1990.
A native of Hull and current Ottawa resident, Takkale understands fans’ principal loyalty to hockey. But he believes the city’s basketball audience is growing, thanks mainly to successful varsity programs at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa.
Winning eight of the last 10 national championships, Carleton’s men’s basketball team is the game’s undisputed powerhouse in Canada.
“In a place where people love basketball, in a place where university basketball is getting high attendance, wow, when pro ball comes to town it’s going to be great,” Takkale says.
For the new franchise owner, Takkale saw the creation of NBL Canada as the opportunity to realize his passion for the sport.
“To own a sports franchise,” he says, “is a dream come true for me.”
The team will be one of nine competing in the NBL.
The league started in 2011 with teams in Saint John, Halifax, Quebec City, London, Moncton, N.B., Oshawa, Ont., and Summerside, P.E.I. An expansion team from Windsor joined the league for the 2012-13 season, the Quebec City franchise has since moved to Montreal, and Ottawa’s scheduled debut next year will bring the league total to nine teams.
Canada is no stranger to basketball.
Dr. James Naismith – who was born and grew up in the Ottawa-area town of Almonte – invented the sport in 1891 while working as a gym teacher at Springfield College in Massachusetts, then a YMCA training school.
Other notable developments in Canadian basketball history include hosting the National Basketball Association’s first game – held in Toronto on Nov. 1, 1946 – and of the rise of B.C native Steve Nash as the NBA’s most valuable player in back-to-back seasons in 2005 and 2006.
In 1995, the NBA expanded to Canada with the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies, though the Vancouver club later relocated to Memphis.
Takkale says the success strategy for the NBL’s new Ottawa team is simple: cheap tickets and the 3 Es – energy, excitement and excellence.
“I don’t want them to think about what the score is,” says Takkale. “I want them to leave with an entertaining experience for $15.”
For Ottawa resident Jamaal Fannin, news of the basketball team came as a pleasant surprise. As a player in a recreational league at the Centretown YMCA, Fannin, a big fan of the sport, says there is definitely a large market for basketball in the city – but for the right price.
Takkale is tasked with hiring a coach, recruiting a team and choosing a name. A name-the-team competition has already had a strong response, he says.
“We’ve had 276 names . . . I want to leave it for the fans to select the team name,” says Takkale. “It is the Ottawa team and they can select it.”
Ottawa residents can submit their name suggestions on the team’s website at www.basketballottawa.com.
Takkale says he will narrow down the list and announce the team name in the new year.