Is hoops just house-sitting until hockey arrives in St. John's?

Published on August 11, 2017

Perhaps it’s the pessimist in me, but it really doesn’t make sense. I’d even go so far as to suggest there’s something fishy about the whole thing.

Think about it. A New York multi-millionaire — granted, he’s from the region, Glace Bay, N.S. — and a Toronto promoter hard after a pro basketball team for a third-rate league, to run it out of St. John’s, NL.

I mean, c’mon.

To Irwin Simon, the chap who made a fortune in health food, it’s only Monopoly money. To John Graham, it’s but another deal. It’s what he does.

To St. John’s, the National Basketball League of Canada means 20 nights, at least, for Mile One Centre and a bit of entertainment for sports-deprived citizens of St. John’s left with little now that the American Hockey League is done.

Friday, The Telegram broke the story that a deal has finally been reached between the Simon group, with Graham as the frontman, and St. John’s Sports and Entertainment to lease Mile One.

The lawyers are drawing up the papers and the whole thing should be made official next week.

It’s the end to an interesting, if not strange, couple of weeks.

First, the league announced last month an expansion franchise had been awarded to St. John’s and the Simon group. Problem was, Simon/Graham didn’t have a lease with Mile One.

Local businessman Tony Kenny did have a tentative agreement with the rink, but hadn’t submitted an application to the league.

In the meantime, Glenn Stanford, who had run the St. John’s IceCaps for six years, went after the NBL Canada, but walked after getting nowhere in negotiations with Mile One, making a suitable deal impossible.

Which makes one wonder that if Stanford couldn’t make things work with his numbers, how can the Simon group do so? Or did the numbers change? Did Graham manage a more favourable deal, when Stanford was told there was no bending on what offered to him?

And then there was the president of NBL Canada, Victor Frijia, saying he’d like to see a lease deal done in St. John’s by the end of the month.

That was July 18.

The 10-team league opens in November, leaving not a lot of time to put together a front office and start selling corporate sponsorship and tickets.

Oh, did I mention cobbling together a team to put on the floor?

But the truth is basketball really is secondary in all this.

Rather, it’s about hockey — colleague Brendan McCarthy muses that when he chats with people about this basketball, the subject always comes back to hockey — and securing some kind of negotiating rights with Mile One should a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise become available next season to begin play in St. John’s in 2018-19.

It’s believed Graham, in fact, did score exclusivity rights to negotiate hockey with this basketball deal.

Former NBL Canada commissioner David Magley — he pushed hard for St. John’s, but he’s gone now, out of the picture —openly admitted to cozying up to the idea of tying basketball and hockey together.

Nine of the league's 10 franchises are located where junior teams are in place — all five in the Maritimes and four (Windsor, Niagara, Kitchener-Waterloo and London) in Ontario. The exception being the Orangeville, Ont. A’s.

As for the league, the Charlottetown, P.E.I. Island Storm was said to be in peril after its owner ran into money troubles — Frijia said the Strom will be back next season — and the Moncton Miracles folded after the 2016-17 season, only to be reborn as a new team in the New Brunswick city.

So forgive me if I’m not sold on the NBL Canada. It will fill a void this upcoming season, and maybe even the next few years after that.

By then, hockey will likely have returned to Mile One. And basketball, it won’t shock me, could be out the door.


Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort