Mike Morreale got a pick-me-up with Wednesday’s unveiling of the Winnipeg Sea Bears, the newest team in Canada’s elite basketball league.
The league co-founder and commissioner attended the announcement at the Canada Life Centre, home of the NHL Winnipeg Jets, which will be a reconfigured 4,500-seat venue for the Sea Bears.
Winnipeg is the 10th franchise for the league, which has teams in six provinces. It was founded in 2018 with six clubs and started playing the following year.
The league has seen some upheaval in recent months, with two franchises relocating and one giving up, but Morreale was positive about his future.
“I’ve never been stronger,” Morreale said. “It was a lot of work. We’ve seen a lot of growth in a relatively short amount of time so managing that growth is important, but today was about the last thing we had to do.
“Everything was fine. We were looking forward to that day and this league is in a much better place, not just for the teams but for the people behind them.”
Winnipeg businessman and attorney David Asper is the owner of the Sea Bears. He was a partner in the Winnipeg Thunder, a professional men’s basketball team that played from 1992-1994. The city’s last professional club was the Winnipeg Cyclone (1995-2001).
The name Sea Bears was chosen in honor of the polar bear, whose Latin name Ursus maritimus, means “sea dog”. Manitoba is known for its polar bears on Hudson Bay.
Asper noted that the print of the polar bear logo on the uniform was not cozy.
“You want the look to look like he’s looking at you and thinks he’s going to eat you,” Asper said with a smile.
He said he wants to buy a franchise to grow the game of basketball across the country and intends to host the 2025 CEBL championship.
“This league is about building Canadian basketball and providing a step up so young people in our country can aspire to play and actually play and have a path to play for Team Canada,” Asper said .
Maximum 3 Americans on each list
The CEBL is a partner of Canada Basketball. Some of its players have also signed contracts with the National Basketball Association.
The league’s 14-man roster consists of a minimum of six native players, a maximum of three Americans, one international player and one from U Sports. Each team’s salary cap is $8,000 per game.
Morreale said CEBL teams would be split into West and East divisions at the start of the 20-game fifth season in May 2023.
Western clubs include the Vancouver Bandits, Edmonton Stingers, Calgary Surge, Saskatchewan Rattlers (Saskatoon), and Winnipeg. The eastern teams are the Brampton Honey Badgers, Scarborough Shooting Stars, Ottawa BlackJacks, Niagara River Lions (St. Catharines), and Montreal Alliance.
After the 2022 season ended in early August, a series of changes rocked the league.
The league announced that the Guelph Nighthawks, who play in the smallest market in the loop, were not financially viable enough and the franchise would be relocating to Calgary. In October it was renamed Surge.
In September the club formerly known as the Fraser Valley Bandits was sold and renamed the Vancouver Bandits but will continue to play at the Langley Events Centre.
The league then decided in early November to end operations of the Newfoundland Growlers franchise after just one season in St. John’s, NL. The reason given was that the team’s home at Memorial University did not have the amenities required for a professional league.
Earlier this week, it was announced that reigning champion Hamilton Honey Badgers would be making a permanent move and becoming the Brampton Honey Badgers. The league was forced to relocate the franchise as renovations at Hamilton’s First Ontario Center would close the facility during the 2024-25 CEBL seasons.
Morreale said there are talks of future expansion.
“We’re still in these discussions,” he said. “Certainly a return to the East Coast is something we’re considering, Quebec City or even close to Montreal.
“There’s also some other discussion[about]Kelowna, Victoria, Regina. There’s a lot of interest and really it’s just about being very selective about where we go and when we go.”