SPORTSTALK

Giant Steps

The future of pro hoops in Duval

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I’ve been skeptical. I hate to admit it, but it’s the truth.

I’ve doubted the viability — or potential viability — of pro hoops in Jacksonville. And a part of me still does. Then again, I’ve been here a long time. The city of Jacksonville is changing.

Growing. Attracting more people with disposable income. More people who expect urban amenities — like the NBA.

Take the latest triumph of the Jacksonville Giants, our local American Basketball Association franchise that, in the words of acclaimed griot DJ Khaled, “all they do is win win win no matter what.”

The Giants, you see, have done it again. Yet another ABA championship for the city of Jacksonville. In what might have been their proudest moment as a franchise, they got it done.

Sweeping the first two games of what was intended to be a best-of-three series against the acclaimed North Dallas Vandals, the clincher was won by one point on a rainy night, on a weekend that let us know that summer is but a heartbeat away.

It was a one-point victory, keynoted by the usual suspects: Anthony Jackson, who’s been so clutch this year, with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 105 seconds left on the clock; Jermaine Bell, who poured in 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help in the effort; and Ed Horton and Currye Todd — the dynamic duo of guards — each with 22 points.

This was a different Giants victory than many we’ve seen. The turbo-charged NBA jam scoring wasn’t as much in evidence, even though at the half the team had 57 points. The Giants went cold in the second half, letting the Vandals back in the game as if the ABA were fifth-century Rome, but no matter. They were able to close out, like champions do. Word is, Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan, whose team played every close game as if they needed a collective Heimlich maneuver, was watching the game and furiously taking notes.

OK. Maybe not. We know that ABA basketball — for all its excitement, especially here, where we seem to have the best franchise in the league — isn’t exactly first-rate. However, what has become abundantly clear over the last few years is that Jacksonville supports this team. Maybe it’s because it wins. Or maybe something else is in play. The “something” could be that Jacksonville has an appetite for pro basketball, a hunger that could lead us — to borrow Mayor Alvin Brown’s words — to the “next level.”

There are some who say we should exercise caution when we think this way. Why devote resources to professional sports when we have so many intractable economic problems locally?

Brown doesn’t feel that way. Consider his recent interview with onyxmagazine.com:

“Oh, we are going to have an NBA [team]. Absolutely, yes, my goodness! It may take five years or eight years, but we are going to have an NBA team in Jacksonville. I’m a sports fan. I believe we should not have to go into Orlando or Miami. We can have a team right here in Jacksonville. I’m going to take Jacksonville to the next level, and that’s one of the ways we are going to do it.”

Brown seems to have advanced his argument on this issue since some months ago, even working out a few preliminary logistics.

“I think we have to have a business model. Right now, we can seat 16,000 to 17,000 people. The NBA arena is 20,000. I think the NBA commissioner should have a new model for new teams entering in. Let’s say they would require you to have a 15,000-seat arena, you know, and have that requirement for at least 10 years and give them 10 years to build the team and make it right, because you want to pack the place and you have a new business model. I think it could work.”

Why not? Watch any game in the league in these 20,000-seat arenas – including in-state in Miami and Orlando — and see the empty seats. Maybe the future of these games is actually smaller, with more “exclusive” seating capacities. All pro sports come off better on TV than in person these days; that won’t change. So maybe size doesn’t matter so much.

Previous mayors busted their butts to bring the NFL here. Maybe an NBA team will be Brown’s legacy. It seems to be something for which he has genuine enthusiasm, and with a second term looking more likely than not, I won’t bet against him.

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