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Three years ago, CEBL opened as a six-team non-franchise team east of the Golden Horseshoe in Ontario. After its inaugural season, the league was stable enough to add a seventh club, Ottawa. Then came the pandemic. It could have crushed the fledgling organization, but commissioner Mike Morreale (the former CFL catcher) led the formation of a two-week tournament in the summer of 2020 in St. Catharines, Ontario, so that the CEBL could crown a champion – more than you can say for Morreale’s old league, who didn’t play at all that year. In 2021, CEBL returned to a full regular season and playoff schedule.
Now, as it prepares to kick off its fourth season on Wednesday night, the CEBL has outdone the CFL in a number of ways. With three new expansion franchises ready to hit the field, the CEBL now has 10 teams (one more than the CFL) and a footprint that stretches from coast to coast (the CFL always tries to make take off a team from the Maritimes). Meanwhile, while the CFL is making headlines for the wrong reasons (a recurring player strike), the CEBL is making headlines for signing a famous rapper to play for one of its teams.
Just to be clear, no one is saying CEBL has overtaken CFL. The basketball startup is still far from catching up with the venerable institution of football in terms of attendance, revenue and cultural cachet. But comparing the two all-Canadian leagues shows just how much things are looking up for the CEBL, which continues to grow while seemingly unafraid to try new things. Here are some details to know ahead of season four:
The league keeps growing. This is true both from the point of view of the number of teams and their geographical distribution. By adding expansion clubs in Toronto (the Scarborough Shooting Stars), Montreal (the Montreal Alliance) and St. John’s (the Newfoundland Growlers), the CEBL now has a presence in locations ranging from Langley, Colombia British (the Fraser Valley Bandits) to the eastern edge of the country. It really is a national league now. The other teams are the two-time defending champion Edmonton Stingers, Saskatchewan Rattlers, Guelph Nighthawks, Hamilton Honey Badgers, Niagara River Lions and Ottawa Blackjacks.
The Shooting Stars landed a rap star. Platinum-selling artist J. Cole (née Jermaine Cole) signed a contract last week to play for Scarborough, which also includes former local NBA star (and current Toronto Raptors employee) Jamaal Magloire in as a frame. With J. Cole, there’s obviously a stunt element to signing a 37-year-old who has never played college football and whose professional experience consists of three games last year with a team at Rwanda. His availability is also questionable, as the rapper is set to start his tour on June 10 – just five games into the season. But his addition has already drawn North American media attention to the Shooting Stars and the CEBL.
CEBL’s Michael Jordan is gone. Xavier Moon won the CEBL Player of the Year award in 2019, ’20 and ’21 – those are the league’s three years in existence. The 27-year-old American guard has also led Edmonton to the championship in each of the past two seasons, earning Finals MVP honors each time. Moon signed with G League affiliate Los Angeles Clippers last fall before joining the big club in December and playing for 10 games. He is one of several CEBL players to make the jump to the NBA last season as the world’s top basketball league struggled with COVID-related absences. Another is 2021 Canadian Player of the Year Lindell Wigginton, who is now with the Milwaukee Bucks after leaving Hamilton. While it hurts to lose stars like this, it could be good for CEBL in the long run as it shows the league can be a path to the NBA.
A new moon may rise. With their superstar gone, Edmonton could rely more on forward Jordan Baker, who won the 2020 Canadian Player of the Year award and went on to average 14.9 points and 9.4 rebounds on the season. last. Another strong Canadian is Kadre Gray, a former U Sports star at Laurentian who averaged 15.3 points and 4.6 assists for Ottawa last season and is now with the Fraser Valley Bandits. One candidate to inherit Moon’s Player of the Year award is Cat Barber of Guelph, an American guard who averaged 17.6 points last season before earning a brief stint with the Atlanta Hawks.
The Elam ending is still in effect. Basketball nerds have been saying for years that the NBA should embrace this enlightened method of closing games. Rather than playing for a set amount of time, teams race to a target score (in CEBL it is determined by adding nine points to the leading team’s total with four minutes remaining). This eliminates the annoying tactic of the trailing team intentionally foul towards the end of games in order to win the ball back, and ensures that every competition ends with a winning bucket. The NBA tested the Elam Ending in its All-Star Game in 2020 and everyone loved it, but the league didn’t have the guts to try it in meaningful games. The CEBL has been using it since 2020.
Every game this season is broadcast live by CBC Sports. The slate begins with Wednesday’s opening three games — Montreal vs. Hamilton at 7 p.m. ET, Fraser Valley vs. Ottawa at 7:30 p.m. ET and Niagara vs. Saskatchewan at 9:30 p.m. ET — and continues through Aug. 12. -14 Championship weekend in Ottawa. Every game can be seen on CBC Gem, the CBC Sports app and CBCSports.ca, and a Game of the Week will also air on the CBC Television Network starting in July. See the full streaming and broadcast schedule here. Learn more about the three new franchises in this story from CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter.