Have you caught basketball fever yet? According to CBC and the Toronto Sun, basketball has never been as popular in Canada as it is right now. With all the excitement that has been happening in Canadian basketball this season, I thought it would be a great time to shine a light on Canada’s newest professional sports league. A league that is incorporating new ideas in Canadian communities; giving opportunities to dedicated athletes; giving us exciting sportsmanship to cheer for; impacting lives; inspiring future athletes; and providing great entertainment in over 8 cities across the Great White North. I’m not talking about another hockey league; no I’m talking about the National Basketball League of Canada (NBL).
The NBL is in its 5th season and is bringing a whole new meaning to the game of b-ball. One of the main objectives of the NBL is to raise awareness of the sport of basketball in Canada. Despite having been invented by Canadian, James Naismith, basketball has long been overshadowed by Canadian fan favourite – hockey.
“The roots of basketball are firmly embedded in Canada. In 1891 the game was invented by Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian who hailed from Almonte, Ontario.”
from History of Basketball in Canada
Continue reading at NBA.com
The league also aims to give Canadian basketball fans an exciting and entertaining experience live in their very own communities. League President, Vito Fijia, and League Commissioner, David Magley, have worked tirelessly to ensure that there is a sense of community surrounding the NBL (#nblcommunity). The game is not just about the athletes and the number of baskets scored – it’s also about how the fans experience the game both in and out of the stadium. The NBL recognizes that as important as it for the players to be seen on the court it’s just as important for the fans, especially young fans, to see their favourite players helping out in the community.
Basketball holds a special place in my heart. I actually tried out for, and made, the team in high school but became a bench warmer because I didn’t have the necessary skills to play competitively. I guess the arts, rather than athletics, has always been my true calling. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the action on the court. I love a good b-ball game!
I’ve been a huge fan of the NBL since its inception in 2011 and I was very excited when I was asked to sing the national anthem at a London Lightning game at Budweiser Gardens. Shawna Kwan, who was the choreographer for the London Lightning Dance Pack team, introduced me to the team and its staff. Shawna was key in finding ways for me to become involved with the league; to help build community spirit and bring the London Lightning, and its charitable work, to the attention of the community.
For the first couple of years, my involvement was pretty limited. I sang the anthem at some of the games in London and invited some London Lightning players to make special appearances on my tour with The Saidat Show. It was heartwarming to watch the students interact with these athletic giants off the court. The students would get so excited about seeing their favorite player, in person, at their school and be able to speak with them and get autographs. If only we could bottle their youthful enthusiasm and inject it into them in their teen years.
In 2015, with the help of Thames Valley District School Board and TD Bank, the NBL and London Lightning provided The Saidat Show with the opportunity to host a record-breaking event for school assemblies. 8000 students filled the Budweiser Gardens Stadium to remember to “Be A Champ”. The show proved such a success that the Second Annual “Be A Champ Day” was held this past April.
The league recognized the positive impact these collaborations were having both in the community and in reaching their goal of raising awareness about Canadian basketball. The NBL wishes to affect positive growth nationwide and the league could see that the combination of the individual school visits the players were participating in, as well as the number cities and schools that I reached on my tour, could make that outreach much more effective. By bringing these two ideas together – The Saidat Show and NBL Community – we could make a broader difference not only in London, Ontario but throughout the league. So in January of 2016, I was named Brand Ambassador of the NBL. What an honour!
As Brand Ambassador, I happily promote the NBL and the league’s many community programs. Through their school literacy programs, anti-bullying and anti-drug messages, homeless shelter activities, support of abused women’s causes and breast cancer awareness they have made this sport not only about points on the board but making your days count with the people you influence through your craft.
Throughout the season, I have had the opportunity to meet many beautiful people. Individuals who are committed to ensuring fans have memorable experiences at the games. Each team has made the effort, taken the time and committed themselves to motivating their community in various ways. I have been blessed to witness many of these inspirational events.
Dartis Willis, president, and owner of Windsor Express (#WindsorExpress) has dedicated much time and energy helping the city of Windsor, Ontario to recognize the talent and hard work that goes into making a team great. Local students were so inspired when Express player, Maurice Bolden, came to their schools during my Windsor-area tour days. Not only did Bolden prove to be an amazing role model when he took the time to play ball with some of the students after the show, but he also provided encouragement and motivation to young learners on my Instagram account. Bolden isn’t the only role model playing for the Windsor Express. The team continues to earn my admiration regularly by showing their ardent appreciation for their fans. The story that touched my heart the most was when the team took one fan, a stroke survivor, out for dinner. So impressive, Express players.
London Lightning (#LondonLightning) is now playing in the NBL Championship games against the Halifax Hurricanes. Apart from being a great team on the court, the London Lightning also has a dedicated behind-the-scenes staff. Being a resident of London I’m able to attend Lightning games on regular basis. I get to experience first-hand how much work goes into making a game run smoothly. Jessica McGregor, Adam Rubini work tirelessly to make sure game days run without a hitch and that the team has everything it needs to bring its A-Game for London fans. From lining up talent to sing the anthem, half-time games and making sure prizes are in place McGregor and Rubini are committed to providing fans with a great time. There are also amazing interns and assistants like Nick Hollinger and Tom Frasier that assist with community involvement. And I can’t forget about our enthusiastic MCs, Al Coombs, and Matt Weaver, whose running commentary keep the games exciting for fans. Fans are also treated to amazing dance routines performed by the London Lightning Dance Pack and the junior boys and girls dance teams. Once game time comes the team is on fire and the court is ablaze with action.
The Orangeville A’s (#go_asbasketball)have an amazing way to make their fans feel welcome and appreciated at every game. Whether it is giving a gift basket to an adoring fan, the electric DJ getting the crowd to move their feet, or the Lady A’s dance team encouraging the hometown crowd the fans are sure to know they play an important role in the success of their team. The A’s players have spent countless hours visiting schools and promoting the ideology of being a team player. Carissa Cooper would often show up at one of my school shows in the Orangeville area with tickets for local students to experience a game “on the house”.
The newest NBL team, The Niagara River Lions (#riverlions),has proved to be an excellent addition to the league. The fans were #1 in the players’ hearts and they brought their best game to the court each and every game and Brock University students put on amazing dance performances at some of the halftime shows. The Lions are a kind team and they were determined to make their city proud. It was obvious they did just that as the number of fans increased with each game. The president, and majority team owner, Richard Petko, worked hard to make the team a big hit with the community. I believe he achieved that! Way to go, Lions!
In New Brunswick, the Moncton Miracles (#MonctonMiracles) have built a rapport with their fans that cannot be shaken. Talk about loyalty; these fans make sure the team knows how much they believe in them through the sheer volume of their cheering as well as showing their disapproval on what they feel is a bad call by the referees. I had a chance to meet team player, Tom Granado, after a game while I was traveling out East. Not only is he a talented athlete, but he takes the time to express appreciation to his fans. I had the opportunity to speak with one family who has been to every home game in Moncton. Daughter, Natacha, was very excited when she talked about each one of the Miracles, expressing her goal of having an autograph from each player before the end of the season.
The Saint John MillRats (#TeamMILLRATS)are dedicated to helping build a community of great athletes. From Gabe Freeman holding “Play Like A Champion” basketball clinics to holding summer camps for students the MillRats are doing their part to bring basketball to the forefront of New Brunswick sports culture. The summer camps allow participants the opportunity to learn from pro players and coaches on the very court where the local fans cheer the MillRats on. The coaches and players are building a team in Saint John that will grow and one day the MillRats will recruit the very athletes they are now training and inspiring them to play for the NBL.
The Halifax Hurricanes (#hfxhurricanes), who are also in the finals of the NBL Championship, have built a team that is always thinking of the big picture. I have seen the amazing way that Coach Lopez encourages his team to play hard and enjoy every minute of it. The Hurricane players strive to be leaders in Nova Scotia’s capital as well as inspire the community to dream big. Another amazing role model on the team is Michael Glover who, on a consistent basis, posts inspirational pictures on social media that encourage a growth mindset and a determination to be your very best.
Island Storm (#islandproball) is Prince Edward Island’s only professional sports team and they bring great energy to our smallest province. Joe Salerno, who has broken the NBL league record for the most wins, is the first to give the credit back to his staff, team, and family. Always thinking about how to engage the fans, the Storm has a dedicated photographer, Paula Mozerolle, who captures amazing moments in the game and posts them to social media, encouraging both the fans and the players to bring their all to the court. Mozerolle puts a great deal of time and effort to make sure the Storm players can see the positive effect their influence has on their community.
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention our amazing media personnel; Audley Stephenson who spent many hours filming and capturing all the teams’ highlights and efforts. Through Stephenson’s hard work the fans were able to get a bit more insight into all the things NBL.
If a heart for people and a pride for where you live is part of your dream, you can accomplish amazing things in your world – the NBL has done just that in each NBL community. For the many announcers, coaches, referees, dancers and cheerleaders, score keepers, volunteers, community sponsors and players who make the NBL great we say, “Thank you”! Your talent and hard work really make a difference in Canada.
I think it’s safe to say that the NBL and its dedicated players, coaches, and staff have only begun to inspire, motivate and enrich Canadian communities. If you haven’t had a chance to go to see a game yet, the 2016-17 starts in a few short months. An NBL game is an experience you won’t want to miss.