Professional basketball … Canada-style

Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a Canadian phys-ed instructor, and therefore considered a Canadian invention. It’s so Canadian that a Canadian Heritage commercial was based on it. But through the 20th century, basketball appears to have failed to catch on in Canada as it has in the United States or Europe.

The same year the Euroleague was created, a professional basketball league made up of 24 European teams, the Vancouver Grizzlies prepared to play their swan song during the 2000-01 season. The Grizzlies’ move to Memphis left the Toronto Raptors as the last bastion of professional basketball in Canada.
Currently, there are only a handful of Canadian-born players active in the NBA, with Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, a two-time league MVP, the face of Canadian basketball.

Now, with the upcoming NBA season in serious jeopardy as the owners continue to lockout their players, basketball fans are going to have to deal with a long dry spell; we’re still half a year away from the next March Madness and a full year away from the 2012 Summer Olympics. Indeed, these are dark days for basketball fans.

But in Eastern Canada there’s an upstart basketball league looking to reignite our passion with the sport we claim to have invented.

The National Basketball League of Canada (NBL) came to fruition after the three Canadian teams in the Premier Basketball League decided to secede and create the first-ever Canadian national professional basketball league. Until the formation of the NBL, Canada was the only top-30 basketball nation without it’s own professional league, according to the official NBL website.

Joining the Halifax Rainmen, Quebec Kebs and Saint John Mill Rats in the inaugural season of the NBL will be the Moncton Miracles, Oshawa Power, London Lightning and the Summerside Storm — the first professional sports franchise in P.E.I. since 1996.

“I am so thrilled at the level of interest we are receiving,” said Andre Levingston, interim league president & CEO. “Players and fans across the country are getting really excited about this new national league that is growing the sport in Canada.”

In similar fashion to the CFL, the NBL requires teams to have a certain amount of Canadian talent on the rosters. Each team must have a minimum of 10 players on their roster and a maximum of 12, with at least two being Canadian. The league hopes to become a developmental league for Canadian players hoping to hone their skills at a professional level after college.

“We’re excited that young Canadians can now dream about being a basketball player in their own country,” said Levingston in a press release announcing the inaugural NBL combine and draft. “It’s extremely important to the league that Canadian talent is given a unique opportunity to shine.”

It might be difficult for those far removed from the East Coast to get excited about the NBL during its first season, and it may be premature for the league to claim to be a truly national league with only eastern Canadian communities represented with franchises. One must hope that if the league proves to be a successful endeavor — an entirely possible scenario if there’s no NBA to compete with this year — the potential for expansion to the West exists.
NBL training camp starts in early October, with the inaugural tip-off scheduled for Oct. 29 in Quebec City.

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