0a8bcf30595701c6-NBA1NBA Basketball player greets Gov. John Baldacci in Portland, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

March/April 2008

By Ramona du Houx

Officials from the National Basketball Association met with local and state leaders and took a tour of the city late January to determine if Portland is a good place for a feeder-league team. The group looked at the Portland Expo and the Cumberland County Civic Center as possible venues to play.

The investment group headed by former TD Banknorth president Bill Ryan and his son launched an effort to bring an NBA Development League team to Portland.

The Ryans are working with former Boston Celtics Assistant Coach and Team Executive Jon Jennings, and former Celtics player and Coach K. C. Jones is acting as an adviser.

Jennings approached the Ryans after visiting other potential expansion cities in New England, including Hartford, CT, Providence, RI, Manchester, NH, and Worcester, Springfield, and Lowell, MA.

“I immediately knew Portland was the place to be,” said Jennings.

Skip Chappelle joined Governor Baldacci in Portland to welcome the NBA delegation at Portland City Hall. The governor also brought with him former Cleveland Cavaliers President and current Deputy Commissioner of the Maine Department of Community Development Thaxter Trafton.

“Maine’s basketball history is rich,” said Baldacci. “For decades, high school basketball tournaments have packed the Bangor Auditorium, Augusta Civic Center, and Cumberland County Civic Center with thousands of people cheering on their hometown teams. And the University of Maine has seen basketball greats Skip Chappelle and Cindy Blodgett not only play in Orono but return as coaches.”

Trafton had this to say, “We take great pride in our athletes and through our love of sports we’re helping to strengthen Maine’s economy. Our active support for local college and high school teams unites our communities and a stronger economic foundation is laid. It is this passion that appeals to the NBA as they as look to create a development league and it is what drives Maine’s sports tradition to greater heights.”

The governor said that Maine is not only a state that embraces basketball, but that Portland already has had success with other minor league sports.

“The Portland Pirates are affiliated with the reigning Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks of the NHL,” said Baldacci. “And the Portland Sea Dogs are the Double-A franchise for the reigning World Series champion Boston Red Sox. We would love to help the Celtics win championship No. 17 if they don’t do it on their own this year.”

The governor remarked that watching current baseball superstars who are former Portland Sea Dogs such as Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, and Jonathan Pappelbon makes it easy to dream of seeing the next wave of basketball superstars get their start in Portland as well.

“We were very pleased with the reception we got in Portland today. It’s a beautiful city; I can’t wait to eat a lobster once I get back to New York City,” said K. C. Jones.

The governor presented live lobsters to the NBA delegation during the festivities at Portland City Hall.

The NBA Development League is a feeder league to the NBA, like AAA leagues in professional baseball. Players that may take to the NBA Development League court could eventually end up playing for the Celtics, for the team would be affiliated with the Boston Celtics. If the franchise comes to Maine, games would begin in the 2008-09 season.

The team would play from fall through spring, drawing fans affiliated with the Boston Celtics.

“The resurgence of the Celtics has spurred more interest in the NBA in northern New England,” said Ryan. “It would be a positive for New England, especially northern New England.”

The NBA Development League now has 14 teams, mostly located in the Midwest and West. The league is looking to add an additional 16 teams and expand further east. The closest League team to Portland is in Indiana.