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NBL president sees expansion in future

Oshawa's Marcus Johnson dunks on Halifax's Eddie Robinson during the Power's 115-111 win over the Rainmen. The slam was just two of Johnson's 11 points on the game.

November 30, 2011

By Geoff Zochodne/The Oshawa Express

As part of his dual duty as president and CEO of the Halifax Rainmen and the National Basketball League (NBL) of Canada, it is Andre Levingston’s job to be living in both the present and the future.

It was this that brought him to the General Motors Centre recently, as his Rainmen took a tough loss against the Oshawa Power. Afterwards, Levingston took a moment to reflect on a season and league still very much in their infancies.

When the NBL tipped off on October 29, there were still some grey areas surrounding it that needed to be illuminated. The fledgling organization had no commissioner, the league’s initial, anonymous choice having dropped out; players were hovering between their spots on NBL rosters and the ones they were ogling overseas; and the Canadian league’s southern cousin, the NBA, was locked out rather acrimoniously.

Now, there is some certainty and hope for the future. The NBL has its commissioner, announced recently to be Windsor native John Kennedy. No relation to the eponymous, presidential Kennedy, the new commish does have a sporting background. Through his company, J. Kennedy & Associates, he has worked with clients like the Los Angeles Lakers and the European and Asian PGA Tours.

“He has a lot of experience and has been involved with sport organizations, like start-ups and sponsorships, and served in a lot of different capacities,” says Levingston. “He’s exactly what we need for our league and we think it’s a really good hire.”

To hear Levingston speak about the commissioner’s role, it is evident that Kennedy will be entrusted with a lot of work and responsibility right off the bat.

“He’s going to be a busy guy,” Levingston assures. “Building good business relationships, building our corporate partners to the league, governing the league, making sure teams are executing…and overall just growing the league.”

With the machinery now in place off the court, Levingston is enjoying the play on it.

“It’s great. The level of play is extremely high,” he says. Having just watched the heated contest between the Power and Rainmen, which Oshawa won 115-111, Levingston sounded pleased with the kind of competition being fostered.

“It’s been like that throughout the league. Fans can definitely look for some really good basketball and a lot of entertainment,” he claims.

Numerological hang-ups aside, Levingston has already begun location scouting for new NBL expansion teams to add to the currently seven-strong league.

“We would definitely like to have more teams in the league,” he states. “We’re going to take our time and make sure we get the right ownership groups involved in the markets that will support professional basketball.”

While loathe to give specific destinations, not wanting to “put them on the spot,” Levingston’s comments made it apparent the plan is already in motion for expanding the league.

“We’re behind the scenes working really hard. There are several markets that we have visited and talked with the city officials,” he explains. “We want to make sure that the ownership group that’s interested can get a very good lease that the city will support and that we have the right individuals that are going to be operating in that market.”

Levingston is also eyeing growth in corporate partnerships and league revenues, which he hopes will lead to more revenue sharing. A larger salary cap, up from the current $150,000 per team, would come with the increased revenue. More money could mean more games as well.

Essentially, the president is already thinking about dessert while the main course has yet to be served; as the season is barely a quarter complete. It could be called, if one were searching for puns or punches, a recipe for a disaster. But Levingston thinks Canada’s love of basketball will provide the staying power required to keep the NBL afloat.

“There’s definitely a thirst for basketball in the country. There are three organizations that have been playing ball for five years (Halifax, Saint John and Quebec),” he says. “I think we can duplicate that across the country, we just have to make sure we do business the right way all the time and get the right individuals involved. If we can do that I think we’ll be around for years to come.”

Canada’s previously lone professional basketball franchise, the Toronto Raptors, will soon be returning along with the rest of the NBA. The NBL, up to the December 25 return of the Association, had and will be the only game in town.

Levingston doesn’t give off the impression he is worried by the return of the NBA. Instead, he’s happy to see it return.

“I’m excited, I’m an NBA fan,” he explains. “I’m excited to see those guys going back to work…it’s not good for anybody because it affects everybody, not just the players but the people who work in arenas.”

“As far as it impacting us, we’re the only professional teams…besides the Raptors and we need them around,” he continues. “We are trying to grow the brand of basketball in the country. The impact they make on us is definitely a positive one and not a negative one.”

Despite the NBA being around for the foreseeable future, and playing during the same time of year the NBL puts on its games, Levingston says there is no plan to move the schedule. The NBL won’t become a summer league, he states. In truth, and in contrast to some of Levingston’s other plans, that may be putting the cart in front of the horse.

“We just want to get a good first year under our belt.”

Game Results (Standings)

November 25

Summerside Storm (2nd) 119, Oshawa Power (6th) 97

Storm: Chris Cayole- 26 points,

Power: Brandon Robinson- 19 points

November 27

Oshawa Power 115, Halifax Rainmen (5th) 111

Power: Akeem Wright- 33 points, 10 rebounds

Rainmen: Joey Haywood- 20 points

Schedule

December 1

Power @ Saint John Mill Rats (4th)


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