SUMMERSIDE — Andre Levingston has heard all the critics’ comments that professional basketball will not work in Canada, especially the Maritimes.
He doesn’t buy them.
If anything, that negativity motivates him to succeed.
A native of Detroit, Mich., Levingston is co-founder, president and CEO of the fledgling National Basketball League of Canada. He also owns the Halifax Rainmen, one of the league’s seven franchises.
“We hear the critics say, ‘Canada is hockeytown; basketball will never work here,’” said the well-spoken Levingston during a Summerside Chamber of Commerce business mixer at Empire Theatres on Thursday.
“Hockey is a tremendous sport, and we know the culture that we’re facing and dealing with here.”
Levingston and Saint John Mill Rats president, general manager and league co-founder Ian McCarthy attended the business mixer, where it was announced the P.E.I. franchise will be based in Summerside.
“I am not sure you can fathom what you are getting here, which is one of the reasons I smile so much,” said Levingston.
“You guys aren’t used to seeing seven-foot, 300-pound guys walking around. You can’t fathom the speed of the game.”
The league, which also has franchises in Moncton, N.B.; Quebec City; Oshawa, Ont., and London, Ont., will begin regular-season play in early November. Teams will play a 36-game schedule, with the yet-to-be-named “Island” squad’s home opener Nov. 3. Season tickets are expected to go on sale around the time school starts in early September.
“We know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but I have never been afraid to work, am not afraid of failure and failure is not an option,” said Levingston, who taught school in Detroit for six years before going into business in Toronto.
From Toronto, Levingston moved to Halifax, where he has owned the Rainmen since 2007. He said critics have said each year that pro basketball would not last in Halifax. The first year, he said, people said it wouldn’t work. The second year critics said it wouldn’t last, and the third season was the year it was to go under, he added. Meanwhile, attendance increased every year.
“In our fourth year of professional basketball in Halifax, you still had critics saying, ‘It will never last,’ because they start hearing rumblings beneath the surface,” said Livingston. “But the rumblings were not that we were looking to pack up our bags and say, ‘This won’t make it in Halifax.’
“The rumblings were myself and Mr. McCarthy, secretly, behind the scenes, planning that we need to do something bigger and better for the country. Professional basketball was created by a Canadian. Yet, we were the only developed country in the world that didn’t have its own professional basketball league.
“Why is that?
“Were people scared to start it, or we’re people too busy listening to people saying it will never work?
“I don’t really know what it was. But Ian and I knew it was time for us to do something big in Canada. That it’s time for us to own our own professional league.”
Levingston referred to Canadians Tristan Thompson of Brampton, Ont., and Cory Joseph of Pickering, Ont., being taken in the first round of this year’s NBA draft as two examples of Canadian talent being developed. Thompson went fourth overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers while the San Antonio Spurs took Joseph 29th overall.
“Why can’t basketball work in Canada?,” asked Levingston. “I have never been afraid to fail at anything.
“The league that we play in, the National Basketball League (of Canada), in three to five years, will be one of the best leagues in the world. Canada will be one of the best places to play professional basketball in the world. I guarantee you that.’’