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Dec 11, 1998

G. Michael Reid looks at semi-pro basketball

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Tonight, in the midst of the holiday season G. Michael Reid looks back not on Christmas past, but basketball days and the semi-pro season for 1999.

“Holy Redeemer Parish Hall was before my time but I distinctly remember attending basketball games at the St. Ignatius schoolyard. Sonny Meighan and Frankie Flowers were back then pumping jump shots from the corner and “Wilt the Stilt” Cumberbatch was swatting away lay-ups down the middle. Teams like the Willy Wily Wizards, H.R.C.U. and Carnation had intense rivalries going and fans were treated to many an exciting battle for championship.

I was away during the time when Bird’s Isle was the venue, but returned home in time for the first ever semi-pro season at the Civic. I was thrilled to find that basketball, unlike baseball, cricket and others sports, had not perished in my absence but had instead, grown in popularity. That first season was memorable as the Raiders though eventually losing, managed to pack the house consistently and teams like Jah Jam, Lakers and Hotpoint all played exciting and quality ball. 1993 was also grand as the fans stayed in love with the game and the noise decibels would sometimes reach the ceiling as many a game went right down to the wire. As the Amandala rightly noted in a recent issue, hair salons, taxicabs and nightclubs were only a few among those who did brisk business as a result this success… but then as you know, something happened!

The Amandala has consistently pinned the blame for the demise of semi-pro on certain former ministers of the displaced U.D.P. administration, but speaking as one who attended many of those games and who watched the whole thing transpire, I am convince that there were a few other factors. By 1995, fist fights and all out melees had become quite common at semi-pro games and many a game was disrupted because of senseless violence on the court. It was not uncommon for water or other objects to be tossed onto the court and referees were regularly threatened and even assaulted. The Raiders portrayed a certain rude boy image and every wanna-be rude boy in town would show up at their games with an attitude. In retrospect, I do not believe that any of the Raiders players themselves were bad guys and when I later got to know Ray Gongora whom I had considered to be the most notorious, I found him to be a quite pleasant and amicable person. The Raider were a team, however, who seemed instilled with a diabolic desire to win at any cost, and this attitude would carry over onto their fans in the stands. This eventually hurt their image, their game attendance and in the end, the entire sport.

Of course, it didn’t help that outside the Civic, folks were being robbed on their way home and many a patron came out to find his or her car broken into. The Civic became a very family unfriendly environment and this I believe was the biggest reason why the

same folks who put them where they were, decided to take it away. These folks were of course, the fans.

The National Sports Council in a press release issued last week, informed the general public that the 1999 semi-pro basketball season would tip off on Friday, February twenty-six at the Belize City Center. As an avid basketball fan, this should have come as welcome news to me but considering the circumstances surrounding

this whole semi-pro business, I must admit that I view this report with much skepticism. Of course with the NBA season all but canceled for this year and with CARICOM proof that Belizeans have a healthy appetite for this sport, it would be almost criminal to not have some sort of competition, and soon. We don’t have to do it by investing any huge sum of money that we cannot afford, however, and a solid senior competition would be a much better way to go. Many of our guys wouldn’t mind playing for just good solid fun, and after all, even in the so called semi-pro past, according to many players, the money was not really all that exceptional nor guaranteed.

While we were informed in an Amandala editorial of April nineteenth of this year that the hefty sum of fifty thousand dollars was grossed for five regular season games and an additional thirty-three thousand dollars for one championship game alone, many were the murmurs from players who complained that very little trickled down to them.

I love basketball and for the sake of the many youngsters out there who love and have the talent for this game, I hope that some kind of league is started. Maybe we don’t have to start at the top, however, and instead of wasting astronomical sums of money trying to make this dead horse run, we could use that money instead to improve the sporting programs in our schools. Let us lay a firm foundation now, that when we do get ready for semi pro, we will have an endless well of talent from which to dip. This will provide us with disciplined and more intelligent players and make for a more interesting and civil league.

With the Last Word, G. Michael Reid.”

The opinions expressed on the Last Word are those of G. Michael Reid and not necessarily those of Channel Five. Comments are welcome.


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