WINNIPEG — Mike Morreale got a pick-me-up with Wednesday’s unveiling of the Winnipeg Sea Bears, the newest team in the Canadian Elite Basketball League.
The league co-founder and commissioner attended the announcement at Canada Life Centre, the home of the NHL Winnipeg Jets that will be a re-configured 4,500-seat venue for the Sea Bears.
Winnipeg is the 10th franchise for the league that has teams in six provinces. It was founded in 2018 with six clubs and began play the following year.
The league has experienced some upheaval the past few months, with two franchises moving and one folding, but Morreale was feeling positive about its future.
“Never been stronger,” Morreale said. “It’s been a lot of work. We have gone through a lot of growth in a relatively short period of time so managing that growth is important, but today was kind of the final thing we needed to do.
“Everything has fallen into place. We’ve been excited for this day to come and this league is in a way better place, not only from where the teams are located, but the people that are behind it as well.”
Winnipeg businessman and lawyer David Asper is the Sea Bears’ owner. He was a partner with the Winnipeg Thunder, a men’s pro basketball team that played from 1992-94. The last pro club in the city was the Winnipeg Cyclone (1995-2001).
The Sea Bears name was chosen in honour of the polar bear, whose Latin name, Ursus maritimus, means "sea bear." Manitoba is known for its polar bears at Hudson Bay.
Asper noted the expression of the polar bear logo on the uniform isn’t cuddly.
“The look is supposed to be that it’s looking at you thinking that it’s going to eat you,” Asper said with a smile.
He said he wanted to buy a franchise to help grow the game of basketball across the country and aims to host the 2025 CEBL championship.
“This league is about building Canadian basketball and providing a step up so that young people in our country can aspire to play, and actually play and have a pathway to play for Team Canada,” Asper said.
The CEBL is partnered with Canada Basketball. Some of its players have also signed contracts with the National Basketball Association.
The league’s 14-player roster has a minimum of six homegrown 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 the CEBL teams would be divided into west and east divisions when the 20-game fifth season kicks off 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.
A string of changes shook up the league after the 2022 season ended in early August.
The league announced the Guelph Nighthawks, playing in the smallest market in the loop, wasn’t financially viable enough and the franchise was moving to Calgary. It was renamed the Surge in October.
In September, the club formerly known as the Fraser Valley Bandits was sold and rebranded as the Vancouver Bandits, but will continue to play out of the Langley Events Centre.
The league then decided in early November to suspend operations of the Newfoundland Growlers franchise after only one season in St. John’s, N.L. The reason given was that the team’s home at Memorial University lacked the amenities needed for a pro league.
Earlier this week, it was announced the reigning champion Hamilton Honey Badgers were relocating permanently and becoming the Brampton Honey Badgers. The league was forced to move the franchise because renovations to Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre were going to close the facility during the 2024 and ’25 CEBL seasons.
Morreale said there are talks about future expansion.
“We’re still in those discussions,” he said. “Certainly, a return to the East Coast is something we’re (looking) at, Quebec City or even in proximity to Montreal.
“There are also some other discussions (about) Kelowna, Victoria, Regina. There’s a lot of interest, and really it’s just about being very selective in where we go and when we go.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press