New Basketball Super League branded as best on continent outside NBA

Kitchener-Waterloo Titans and National Basketball League of Canada reviewing possible merger

By Robert Williams – Record Reporter

KITCHENER — It was the shot that instantly turned Canada into a basketball country.

Game 7 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference semifinals, the ball was in Kawhi Leonard’s hands, and it became one of the most iconic moments in Canadian sports history.

It couldn’t have worked. It shouldn’t have worked. But after four bounces off the rim, the ball went through the hoop, and the Toronto Raptors were on their way toward their first NBA championship.

Four years later, professional basketball in Canada might be getting another “shot.”

The ball has left the hands of a new ownership group hoping to establish a legitimate semi-professional league in Canada, and it’s bouncing off the rim.

There’s a couple more bounces to come, but the owners are hoping a European-style super league is a bucket with Canadian sports fans.

With a backdrop of the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, a panel of basketball stakeholders unveiled plans for the new Basketball Super League on Tuesday, a league of 10 to 12 teams from across Canada and the United States.

While many of the finer details are yet to be ironed out, the league aims to become the highest level of professional basketball in North America outside of the National Basketball Association system.

Things are moving quickly.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Titans and the other remaining National Basketball League of Canada teams are expected to join the new league, with NBLC commissioner Audley Stephenson saying Tuesday he is still reviewing the opportunity and expects to make an announcement in the coming weeks.

If they do sign on and agree to merge, it will likely represent an end to the NBLC’s 12-year run, currently operating with just four teams in Ontario. While it likely spells the demise of the NBLC brand, Stephenson referred to any possible merger as a “natural evolution” for the league.

Representatives on hand on Tuesday said all Canadian teams participating in the new super league will operate with Canadian support staff and representatives. Though nothing is official, Stephenson will be among the leading candidates to take on a major Canadian role.

Now, for the league details.

The super league will be owned by The Basketball League, or TBL, which operates 49 teams across North America. TBL teams currently play in 30 states and two provinces.

The goal is to model the league after professional soccer and basketball leagues in Europe, with teams in the super league also playing teams in the TBL.

Super league teams will play 34 games — 20 at home and 14 on the road.

The emphasis on home games is meant to give super league team ownership groups more chances to get fans in the stands, said TBL president David Magley.

It’s no secret that making money is not always easy for minor professional sports, he said, but the emphasis on home games and limited travel should give teams a pathway to break even, and eventually build a brand strong enough to become profitable.

Teams in the new super league — expected to come from Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, Atlantic Canada, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan — will begin their inaugural season on Boxing Day this year, with a season that will run through June. A playoff structure has yet to be established.

Teams will play out of large venues, with a minimum capacity of 2,500.

There will be no salary cap, nor will there be a minimum number of Canadian-born players required for any of the Canadian teams. This has been an emphasis for Canadian pro leagues in the past, but Magley said it likely isn’t necessary anymore.

With such a large Canadian talent pool, and the ability for Canadian players to work and play in Canada without the need to secure work visas, Magley said the new league will continue to open doors for Canadian basketball players to play professionally at home.

The league has entered a 10-year agreement with sponsorship marketing partner Sport Media Marketing of Montreal, and the company is in the process of negotiating a major online streaming deal that will make the league’s games available internationally.

While the announcement for the new league is coming in the middle of the NBLC season, it will not change the current regular season or playoff structure — there will be at least one more NBLC champion.

But with a strict goal to launch on Boxing Day, time is of the essence to establish what teams will be participating, and start focusing on recruitment.

Titans owner David Schooley, who purchased the team last November with his wife, Kate, said that conversations for this new super league have been ongoing since they first took over the reins.

While not yet officially part of the new league, the decision to host the news conference in Kitchener is a not-so-subtle hint about Schooley’s intention to join the league.

He all but confirmed it with his comments during the panel.

“Their community goals and our community goals are completely in alignment, and we are so excited about making basketball so much bigger, not only in Kitchener, but in all of Canada and the U.S.,” said Schooley.

“We are excited about where the super league will take us, and like (Stephenson) said, we’re working through some finer details, and we hope to have an announcement soon.”

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