It’s a no-brainer that hockey and football are the top two sports in Winnipeg. This, of course, is punctuated by the city’s Blue Bombers team in the Canadian Football League (CFL) and the Jets team in the National Hockey League (NHL). Adding to that are the valuable attention that the media (T.V., radio, and newspapers) allot for hockey and football news features, the Jets and Blue Bombers jersey (and collectibles) selling like hot cakes, the buzz that resounds in school and offices after the Jets or Blue Bombers’ game, and Team Canada’s supremacy in World Junior Hockey Championships. All in all, it is obliging to claim that hockey and football are well-hyped in Winnipeg.
With all the attention given to hockey and football, what’s the place of basketball in Winnipeg? To me, it seems basketball is undervalued in the city. For while basketball has been in the city for more than a century, not much attention has been given it through the years. It has been far left behind by hockey and football. The hype that basketball in Winnipeg has is merely from small-scale school and community basketball tournaments, and the silent fervour from a handful of basketball aficionados.
Perhaps, it is so, because Winnipegers consider basketball as less bespeaking of their Canadian identity or that there is just no elite basketball league in Canada that would encourage the promotion of the sport.
To my assessment, there is grave reason why basketball must start to share the attention that hockey and football has in the city. The reasons ran along cultural, social, economic, and political lines:
First, with the sustained influx of immigrants in Winnipeg, majority of these new immigrants (most are Asians acc. to Statistics Canada) are more akin to basketball than hockey or football. The promotion of basketball in the city will surely help the new immigrants in their integration into the Canadian society.
Second, with the increasing gang-related violence in the city, promoting basketball programs can help minimize or prevent the growing number of youth joining gangs in the city. This, of course, is supported by the fact that basketball is an all-season sport where the youth can participate in the sport all-year round.
Third, promoting basketball is economical. Indoor (gym) and outdoor basketball courts are money saving—low cost and low maintenance. Also, indoor basketball courts can be multi-purpose—for assembly and all other sports.
Fourth, promoting basketball leagues in the city can add to the city’s socio-political reputation. If the city can have a franchise in an elite basketball competition–in the same way as Jets and Blue Bombers–it can add to the city’s socio-political reputation and economic gains.
What could be done? Perhaps, these proposals can be considered:
First, empowering these small-scale school and community basketball tournaments. It means improving the system by which these tournaments operate. It means adding more hype to the ongoing competition through media attention especially newspapers, television news, and radio news reports. It also means innovations and expansion for these tournaments in the long run.
Second, a franchise for a Winnipeg team in the newly formed National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC). If Winnipeg Blue Bombers participate in the CFL, why can’t a Winnipeg team participate in NBLC?
Third, a franchise for a Winnipeg team in the National Basketball Association. If Winnipeg Jets participate in NHL, why can’t a Winnipeg team participate in the National Basketball Association (NBA)?
The first proposal is, of course, the most crucial for it is meant to make Winnipegers have affection for basketball in the same way as they have for hockey and football. This, perhaps, was also the laying ground for having a Blue Bombers team and Jets team. Hence, if the first happens, then the second and third proposals are not inconceivable. It may just be a matter of time.
If these could be done, it could also be Winnipeg’s priceless tribute to the Canadian inventor of basketball—James Naismith.