SPORTS

Hoops in Hogtown

BOB LEVIN October 11 1993
SPORTS

Hoops in Hogtown

BOB LEVIN October 11 1993

Hoops in Hogtown

BOB LEVIN

Double pumps. Slam dunks. Crossover dribbles. Off the glass, in your face. Rainbows and trash talk and half-court traps. Jump balls, air balls, pick-and-roll, give-and-go, and that’s not to mention Charles and Michael and Nike and Reebok.

Hoops, roundball—it’s all basketball, by any other name. Don’t worry, folks can learn

the lingo, if they haven’t already. It’s nearly official now: the National Basketball Associa-tion is coming! The expansion committee of the slick, successful NBA has chosen a Toronto group headed by food service magnate John Bitove Jr. and former Ontario premier David Peterson to open the league’s first franchise on foreign soil, starting in the 1995-1996 season. For the privilege, Bitove’s group, which beat out two other highprofile bidders, will pay an entry fee of up to $125 million. The unnamed team is expected to play its first season in a curtained-off SkyDome, then move to a new 20,000-seat basketball-only facility in downtown Toronto. The NBA board of governors will formalize the deal on Nov. 3 or 4 in New

York City; they are also expected to decide on a bid from a Vancouver group headed by businessman Arthur Griffiths.

From the NBA perspective, the invasion of Canada is part of basketball’s manifest des-

tiny: to surpass soccer as the world’s number 1 sport. And what better place to start than the market that put four million people in the SkyDome seats for Blue Jays baseball for three years running. Already the NBA sells $2.7 billion worth of its jackets, caps, shirts and

other merchandise worldwide each year—including $67 million worth in Canada. Simply put, the stuff is cool, especially the distinctive red-and-black of the champion Chicago Bulls and mega-star Michael Jordan. Even without their own franchise, 28 per cent of Canadian teens told a pollster last year that they closely followed the NBA—a level of interest bested only by hockey and baseball. And Canadian kids are not just wearing and watching the game: in Ontario alone, more than a million people are now playing recreationally.

That is all rather appropriate, of course,

Toronto wins a pro basketball franchise

considering that the game was invented by James Naismith of Almonte, Ont. Naismith, working as a phys-ed instructor at the YMCA in Springfield, Mass., back in 1891, just wanted something to keep his boys busy between fall football and spring baseball. But oh, how the game has changed since he nailed up that first peach basket. Basketball ran a fast break from the stolid towns to the roiling cities and into the heart of American culture—became a culture all its own. In the

mountain hollows, in the flatlands made for growing com and racing cars and bouncing balls, the game became a religion. In the inner cities it grew faster, fiercer, fancier and very much African-American. Blacks

changed basketball, giving it a beat, an attitude, and under the NBA’s whiz-bang promotion, it has become the official sport of the fastforward remote-control generation.

Canadians will get a live taste of the action when the World Championship of Basketball—another Bitove group production—comes to Toronto and Hamilton next August, including a U.S. entry featuring NBA stars. Language-wise, at least, that event will offer a quick course in hoops immersion before the NBA arrives just over a year later. And Canadians need not fret: pro hockey and basketball can peacefully co-exist. Their fans can even overlap, there need not be two solitudes. Basketball is just another way to survive the winter—a jamming, jiving, high-fiving sort of way. □