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Hopeful hoops for the city

Entrepreneur Brian Luckman promises a strong ABA team to play at Copps

Scott Radley

The Hamilton Spectator

(Nov 9, 2007)

The owner of Hamilton's new minor-pro basketball team was certainly saying all the right things yesterday.

At the official announcement that the Hamilton Yet-To-Be-Named will start play at Copps Coliseum a year from now as part of the American Basketball Association, 38-year-old entrepreneur Brian Luckman said he was attracted to this city because of its basketball heritage. He promised an exciting product with a strong team, and he introduced former Toronto Raptor Chris Childs as general manager, giving the franchise some immediate legitimacy.

The most important thing he said was about tickets, specifically, how much they will cost. "A lot, lot lower than what the Raptors are charging," the lifetime New York Knicks fan from Richmond Hill laughed.

Though it may sound like an obvious position to take -- this isn't the NBA after all, but rather a 37-team league with members from Montreal to Mexico and as many as 25 more expansion teams set to begin play next fall -- there's reason to believe price alone may make or break this operation.

Two months ago when The Spectator first reported this was coming, the league's commissioner said the league's $120,000 US salary cap and financial structure make it possible for a team to break even with just over 1,000 fans in the arena at $20 a pop or so. Yesterday, Luckman said he expects far more than that, which is why he chose to sign a three-year lease deal with Copps for the 18 home games a season rather than looking to a smaller facility like McMaster's gym. "We are going strictly over the top," he said.

If he does it right, he has a chance to win people over and, if everything goes perfectly, perhaps even match the 3,500 the Skyhawks used to attract when Hamilton last had a pro hoops team 15 years ago. It won't be easy. This is a circuit that's a step below the NBA Developmental League -- in hockey terms it'd be equivalent to the East Coast League -- and won't be filled with recognizable names.

Which is why it'd almost certainly be disastrous if he tries to squeeze a few extra dollars out of the fans early to make a little more money on the investment. Just look at the Toronto Marlies. Despite playing in a city with a rich heritage in their sport, they overpriced their tickets at the outset and despite lowering them in recent years, have never recovered.

Truth is, there are probably more than a few folks who think this team won't work under any circumstance, good price or not. Hamilton has a spotty history when it comes to supporting minor-league teams. And now that local basketball fans have seen the Toronto Raptors develop into a winner, there's going to be some comparisons. No matter what anyone says to the contrary, that may hurt.

Luckman isn't deterred. He believes he has a plan -- he didn't offer many details yesterday but promised it was in place -- to create a game-day atmosphere that'll keep people entertained and coming back for more. The biggest part of that, he says, is the understanding that this is not going to be a glorified beer-league squad.

"You will see on our team (top U.S. college) calibre players," Luckman says. "You will see a high level of play."

Childs goes further. After building a reputation during a 10-year career with the Knicks, Raptors, and New Jersey Nets, he says he wouldn't attach his name to something he didn't believe could be top-notch. The team he builds will be up-tempo and successful, he says. That means he'll be bringing in players who like to run. It also means that at 39 -- 40 in a few days -- he won't be among them.

"I don't anticipate that happening," he laughs.

But back to the tickets. The other teams in the division Hamilton will soon call home peddle seats to kids at an average of about $9 and sell adult tickets at an average of $15 to $29. At those prices, a decent team should be able to draw the required numbers to keep the franchise going.

If it takes off, there's already talk Luckman may buy the rights to start teams in Kitchener, Niagara and other nearby outposts, creating a hotbed of basketball for those who can't afford, or can't get tickets for, the big club down the QEW.

But that's the cart. This is the horse.

And nobody yet knows for sure that this nag's gonna like minor-league hoops.

Contest to name the team

* The team name will be chosen through a name-the-team contest in The Spectator and on thespec.com starting in a couple of weeks.

* One of the eye-catching differences between the ABA and NBA is the Super Foul Rule. If a team commits its 10th foul, the offended player can take two traditional free throws or choose a teammate to try one three-point shot.

* Childs played 541 NBA games, yet hilariously, the first thing listed under Career Highlights on his resume distributed yesterday was his inclusion on the 1998-99 NBA All-Interview Second Team.

* Hamilton appears set to play in a division with the Vermont Frost Heaves, Halifax Rainmen, Montreal Royal and Quebec Kebekwa.

* For those who remember the 1970s version of the league, the ABA's signature remains the red, white and blue basketball.

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* Hamilton appears set to play in a division with the Vermont Frost Heaves, Halifax Rainmen, Montreal Royal and Quebec Kebekwa.

Frost Heaves? Oh.....oh dear....

There's a story behind that team that's actually kind of interesting. The guy who owns it writes for S.I. and started it essentially to provide fodder for articles. Turns out he developed a unique brand identity and an ABA championship in the team's first year.

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* Hamilton appears set to play in a division with the Vermont Frost Heaves, Halifax Rainmen, Montreal Royal and Quebec Kebekwa.

Frost Heaves? Oh.....oh dear....

There's a story behind that team that's actually kind of interesting. The guy who owns it writes for S.I. and started it essentially to provide fodder for articles. Turns out he developed a unique brand identity and an ABA championship in the team's first year.

Unfortunately, winning the ABA is about as significant as, well, hitting 500 posts here.

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Other names being bandied about on a local message board:

hamilton argonauts

hamilton sandwiches

Hamilton Shawaramas

Hamilton Barbed-wire Armband Tattoos

Hamilton Fisticuffs

Hamilton Coke Ovens

hamilton stabbin hoboes

Some of those are better than what usually gets picked as a moniker in the ABA.

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