The National Basketball League of Canada will kick off its 10th landmark season in February with four Ontario-based teams and cross-border competition against eight U.S.-based teams competing in the Basketball League.
Canada’s oldest professional basketball league, inactive since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will return without a franchise to Atlantic Canada for the first time since the inaugural 2011-12 season. The decision to go with the all-Ontario format came after franchises in Halifax and Moncton went out of business, and the St. John’s Edge couldn’t agree on a suitable place to play. Charlottetown-based Island Storm will take a break as the league seeks new owners in the Maritimes.
At no time did the four Ontario-based owners consider doing the same, said NBLC vice president of basketball operations Audley Stephenson.
“This (interleague play) was very recent, as Ontario lifted indoor capacity limits in October, and I wouldn’t say that’s part of the long-term plan, but it’s something that made sense for us and we were excited about it,” Stephenson said on Tuesday.
“The 10th season is very important for us, we are very proud of it, and the idea of not playing was not acceptable to anyone.”
The Kitchener-Waterloo Titans are scheduled to begin their fifth season of operations on Saturday, February 5 with a home game against the Windsor Express. The 24-game schedule calls for the Titans to play six games against the other Ontario-based teams – Sudbury Five, London Lightning and Express – home and away games against the Jamestown (NY) Jackals and Kokomo (Indiana) Bobcats, and singles matches against the stallions Dayton (Ohio) Flight and Syracuse (NY). The Lansing (Mich.) Pharaohs, Flint (Mich.) United, Toledo (Ohio) Glass City and Albany (NY) Patroons will also compete, but are not expected to face the Titans. The Titans end their regular season schedule on April 30 against the visiting Jackals.
Wins and losses will be tallied in interleague matchups and teams will compete for their respective league championships at the end of the regular season. Stephenson said all four NBLC teams will likely make the playoffs, with details yet to be finalized.
The subject of cross-border play arose during a conversation between Stephenson and former NBLC commissioner Dave Magley, who is now president of 29 TBL teams that has been around for four seasons and owns franchises across the United States.
Stephenson took the idea to the four active NBLC owners, including Titans boss Leon Martin, to talk over the details and iron out the loose ends. The plan received unanimous support, he added, and allowed owners to begin preparations for the 2022 season.
“Right now it’s just for this year, but I’m excited to go play against some American teams,” Martin said. “I think it will be a good thing.”
Stephenson said it was difficult to speculate whether the interleague arrangement would go beyond this year, but did not rule out an extension.
He also won’t be pushing the kibosh when returning to Atlantic Canada.
“I wouldn’t say that ship sailed. We are convinced that we will return. We’ve had conversations and there’s interest,” he said.
Martin said the work of preparing the Titans for the 2022 campaign is already underway, with Mel Kobe hired as general manager and Cavell Johnson returning as head coach. The team will continue to play their home matches at Aud, Martin said, although a contract has yet to be negotiated.