“God Pity Halifax if you get involved with .”
That quip, from a reporter with the Indianapolis Star, sums up the Halifax Rainmen’s relationship with the ABA---one that was ended last week at the end of their first season. From the beginning, Andre Levingston, owner of the Rainmen, had to deal with the stigma of the ABA. The final straw came last week when the Bahama All-Pro Show cancelled their game in Halifax at the last minute and the Atlanta Vision had to fill in.
“That situation never should happen in a professional sport,” says Levingston. “Halifax deserves better.”
But only a few weeks ago Levingston assured me that he was excited to play in the ABA. “I’m a businessman,” he said in February. “I know what I’m getting myself into before I make a decision to make my investments.”
Levingston isn’t the only one to have flip-flopped on his position regarding the ABA and the Rainmen. League CEO Joe Newman told me in February that if the Rainmen continue their economic success, “they’ll be here two years, or even five years from now.”
Now Newman claims he probably wasn’t going to renew the Rainmen’s contract next year. The Rainmen may have had the highest attendance in the ABA, but Newman felt the $18 ticket price compromised the fan-friendly spirit of the ABA. There were also complaints from other teams about the travel time to Halifax. Newman wanted Halifax to secure a deal with an airline. When this fell through, Newman started to doubt the Rainmen franchise.
But the Rainmen were one of the few teams to finish with all their games played. More than half of ABA teams didn’t play 15 games. Despite finishing with a losing record, the Rainmen were an ABA champion off the court.
Levingston says the Rainmen made it through the year because “everything’s first-class.” It’s also why he says the Rainmen deserve better than the ABA. The Metro Centre venue gives respectability to the Rainmen, in a league where some games are held in high school gyms, creating increased revenue for entertainment and ongoing travel costs.
“We knew day one that we were going to raise the bar. I didn’t want to run my franchise like I was in the ABA. I wanted to run it like I was in the NBA because that’s the aspiration.”
Last week the Rainmen took another step toward that aspiration when Levingston announced he will try to get into the NBA’s development league.
The D-league has been operating for seven years and has been the source of every mid-season call-up player in recent years. There are 16 teams in the league. Halifax would be the first Canadian team.
The D-league declined to speak about this issue, but did confirm that their long-term goal is to have one team for every NBA team.
“We want to, A: Strengthen the existing teams that we have, and B: if there’s a great opportunity to expand, pursue it,” says a D-league insider, who declined to be named.
The specifics about the Rainmen becoming a D-league team are still unknown, but landing league status seems unlikely when their closest Eastern opponent is in Eerie, Pennsylvania. If Levingston can’t secure a franchise, he says he’s already been courted by other leagues, including the Premier Basketball League.
And Levingston says folding isn’t on the cards. “One: We don’t have issues with money. And two: The only way we aren’t going to be in Halifax is if Halifax doesn’t support the team.”
The Rainmen are building that support through involvement in the community--- providing basketball camps, fundraisers, trading cards and more. That’s why Levingston says leaving the ABA and heading to the D-league’s office is a tremendous opportunity for all of Halifax.
“You can dream about being a professional hockey player here, because they have a great hockey team. Well, now these kids can dream about basketball,” says Levingston. “The thing is, there’s going to be basketball in Halifax. I’m going to make sure of that. Basketball is important to this city.”