Photo Credit: Jacinthe LeBlanc
By: Cole Shelton
The National Basketball League of Canada wrapped up its eighth season of play with the Moncton Magic becoming the new champions. The Magic swept the St. John's Edge in the Finals in four straight to win it all, and beautifully put an end to what was a great season of basketball.
For Deputy Commissioner, Audley Stephenson, to see Moncton win it all was particularly special given the history of basketball in the city and the ups and downs Moncton fans have gone through.
"It is amazing for a number of reasons. The first one that comes to mind is the fact that the city of Moncton is one of the league's original cities from the inaugural season," Stephenson said. "The city has gone through their fair share of adversity and its amazing to see them reach but this point, usher in a new brand of basketball and in the process, win a championship. I think the fans are very deserving. Moncton fans went through a tough stretch of basketball where they weren't very good to two years later where they are hoisting a championship."
Meanwhile, although the Edge lost in the Finals, it was just their second year as a franchise and had a ton of success. With the likes of Glen Davis and Carl English among countless others on their team, they were a must-have ticket on the island.
To see a second-year franchise have that much success shows they are doing something right.
"It speaks for the growth of the franchise. There are a number of things it does. Future franchises look at that and go look what is feasible," the Deputy Commissioner said. "They worked incredibly hard this year, on and off the court. Their front office staff is amazing, same with the ownership group. I would expect them to work as hard as they can to get back to that level."
And, the Edge, as mentioned, brought in an NBA Champion in Glen Davis. To have someone of that calibre be a part of this league proves they are doing something right according to Stephenson.
"As we continue to build and grow our league, I think its important that we constantly are on the look out for opportunities to legitimize ourselves and build our credibility. This league is going through a revival of sorts," he explained. "Over the last two to three years we have done a lot to improve our overall operations both internally and externally. We've strengthened our infrastructure and are getting better and improving. To bring a guy like Glen Davis who has such a strong resume adds to that and sends a strong message to those on the outside watching. Like okay, look at what is happening in Canada. It helps legitimize and strengthen our league and brand."
Not only did St. John's have success, but the new expansion team in the Sudbury Five had a tremendous amount of success in their first season. They made the playoffs and gave St. John's a tough series, and showed expansion teams could have success right away in this league.
"I loved it. It was a combination of several key factors that made the success in Sudbury happen. Their ownership group was committed from the onset, they had an existing infrastructure from their Sudbury Wolves hockey team that they were able to leverage and help on the basketball side. They were externally committed," he said. "A guy like Logan Stutz who was the head coach and general manager, win executive of the year, after all the success he had as a player was a nice combination. It made it a nice success. I can't wait for what year two looks like for them."
After seeing the Five have so much success, it must be something potential franchise owners want to see. Teams in the NBLC can be competitive from the get-go, and with back-to-back years of expansion teams, Stephenson says it's unlikely there will be any next season, but in two years they could very well be two expansion teams.
"There are talks. I wouldn't say there is anything coming for next season. There is one for certain that is interested in the following year which would be our 10th year," he explained. "We could see as many as two, in two years from now. There is a lot of interest. It is really important for a league, to make sure the new franchise will work and it is for the longterm growth of basketball."
Meanwhile, a big storyline for the NBLC in their eighth season was the startup of NBLC Live, the streaming platform. The league wanted their own platform to stream games, and after hearing feedback throughout the season, Stephenson believes it was a successful venture and knows it will only get better from here.
"Year one of NBLC Live, overall it was very positive in terms of starting a platform. Where there some hiccups and bumps along the way? Yes, there were. We used that data to improve and there are some great things in place to strengthen the platform," he said. "In terms of the overall response, we had slightly less than 10,000 subscribers so we're pleased with the uptake. We know there are some areas of improvement, and we've started a plan. We always knew that part of our growth involved having our platform and we are excited to take that to the next league."
In the end, first and foremost this is a Canadian league and the Stephenson is proud of what the league has done for professional Canadian basketball players and helping grow the game. As the league enters their ninth season, he knows they are here to stay.
"It is a Canadian league. We are growing the game. We've been doing the part. It is something we are committed to. Stephenson concluded. "To have top Canadians play here is good to have. It is great to have them represent our brand and product. I can't wait for season nine. One step closer to season 10."