With the Toronto Raptors only a month removed from winning the first NBA championship outside the United States, and a record six Canadians selected in late June's draft, the basketball boom north of the border continues to reverberate, and a new, uniquely Canadian league is looking to capitalize on it.
Here's everything you need to know about the Canadian Elite Basketball League.
The CEBL is a six-team, Canadian basketball league featuring teams in Fraser Valley (British Columbia), Edmonton (Alberta), Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), and Hamilton, Niagara, and Guelph (Ontario). Each arena is mandated to hold a minimum capacity of 4,000.
Each team consists of a 10-man roster that includes a minimum of seven Canadians and a maximum of three international players. At least two Canadians must be on the court at all times. The league is the first ever first-division professional league partner of Canada Basketball, the governing body for the sport in the country.
The inaugural season tipped off in May and will culminate in a four-team championship weekend in Saskatoon on Aug. 22-25, following a 20-game regular season. All games are broadcast on the league's free streaming service, CEBL TV. The league also has a partnership with CBC Sports, which streams all games across its platforms.
The following is a Q&A with CEBL senior marketing manager Ansh Sanyal:
theScore: What is the purpose of the CEBL?
Sanyal: It was born with the vision to provide Canadians with a premium basketball option that gives top players, coaches, and fans a chance to engage with one of Canada's most popular sports. We wanted to create a platform for basketball in Canada that's - as our CEO and commissioner likes to put it - "for Canadians, by Canadians." A new basketball experience that allows the country to see all the rich talent coming out of this country, and also provides them with a platform and foundation wherein they can now play at home. A record six Canadian players got drafted from Canada in the NBA recently, there are hundreds of phenomenal athletes playing at the U Sports level and NCAA first division schools, and so many more playing in other international professional FIBA leagues, why not showcase and celebrate them right here in their own country.
theScore: What is the draw of the CEBL?
Sanyal: So much to list out! Because it's a summer league, it allows (Canadian) players from around the world to come back and play at home, whether they're playing in Europe or in other FIBA leagues. International players, as well, get a chance to compete at a very high level. This also helped us sign players at the highest of professional levels worldwide, from players playing in first division pro leagues in Europe, the NBA G league, etc. Just as an example, Connor Wood recently signed with the Guelph Nighthawks after playing in Germany. A Guelph native and a Carleton University product, he has won several national titles and is a crowd favourite instantly. It's really an amalgamation of very rich, high-level talent showcasing an exceptional level of basketball.
The other unique identifier is that as a summer basketball league, we are able to unite communities and make it a fan experience that goes beyond just the basketball. Tailgates, concerts, entertaining half-time shows, there is something for the entire family, pregame, during the game and after the game. It's "a new basketball experience" for a reason. It gets local businesses, athletes, artists, music acts, and more talents involved and now all of a sudden the fun includes much more than basketball. Even if you're not a basketball fan, you should come and experience it.
theScore: How has the Raptors' championship run impacted league interest?
Sanyal: From a timing perspective, we couldn't be more fortunate and happy. The Raptors are not only a Toronto team - they're Canada's team and I feel they’ve done something historic. There is an arguable shift in cultural focus and it being part of a core interest among sports fans in this country helps us tremendously. Having said that, this popularity and following for the sport has been in the making for several years now. I read an article two years ago that said basketball is the most played sport among youth in the country. The Raptors winning only catalyzes this popularity even further. It almost creates a path for us to take it forward. In a way, taking the burden off the Raptors and showcasing other opportunities and events to the sports community and beyond. Basketball is definitely here to stay and the Raptors' run ending in a championship is a bit of a milestone that just marks it.
theScore: How will the CEBL capitalize on that increased Canadian interest in basketball?
Sanyal: We're the first-ever professional league partner of Canada Basketball, and having that support of the national governing body of basketball in the country is probably the biggest thing that helps us grow the game in the country. We also play FIBA-rules basketball. I think that allows us to showcase our talent at a FIBA level the world over. So our hope is - and I know it's already happening - that it sheds a huge spotlight on players all over the country for other leagues around the world as well, not just the NBA.
With that, we've also partnered with U Sports (Canada's national governing body for university athletics), and our rosters must have one U Sports-eligible athlete on them. I think that's a huge win for the sport as well because now it allows athletes who play in university programs across the country to come and get an envious opportunity to grow their game and gain valuable experience in professional basketball over the summer while they're still at school. Again, playing over the summer, timing-wise, allows us to give students that opportunity and so far it's been phenomenal.
Beyond that as well, our local teams have been heavily invested in growing basketball and partnering with local schools and groups in their region through coaching clinics, community initiatives, and beyond. That stuff really impresses me most as a marketer. The sport is just a tool to bring a beautiful, culturally diverse and rich country even closer.