Pro basketball team in Calgary brings Battle of Alberta to the hardcourt


News that a professional basketball team is moving to Calgary next year has fans excited, and those involved in the sport think it will go a long way to increasing interest.

The Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) announced this week it is moving the Guelph Nighthawks to Calgary, opting to take one of its founding franchises to a much larger market.

Alberta is no stranger to the CEBL. Edmonton is home to the two-time champion Stingers, and this move automatically sets up a new version of the classic Battle of Alberta.

“It’s not a rivalry that we have to manufacture, I think it’s built in,” said CEBL commissioner Mike Morreale.

Morreale said Calgary was always a natural spot for the league but felt the time wasn’t right to go to the city until now. 

Basketball is becoming one of the most popular sports in the world, so it seems like an opportune timing to take this chance.

“Obviously the success of the Raptors has really sparked an interest in basketball across the country, and particularly Alberta,” said Dale Oviatt, spokesperson for WinSport.

WinSport, located in the city’s northwest, will be the team’s new home. It was previously the setting for the Basketball Champions League of the Americas tournament in March. It featured the Edmonton Stingers on the court, essentially serving as a preview of what’s to come.

“All in all, it proved that Calgary is a potential basketball city and this venue would be perfect,” said Oviatt.

The Hamilton Honey Badgers celebrate with the championship trophy after defeating the Scarborough Shooting Stars 90-88 on Sunday in the 2022 CEBL championship final in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

‘Tremendous for Alberta’

Paul Sir, executive director of the Alberta Basketball Association, said this will have the added benefit of showing kids they could have a long-term future in the sport.

“Showtime is the NBA, of course, but that kind of experience is for very few athletes. So to give more Canadian athletes a chance to play and inspire the youth and the community to want to play, that’s where the CEBL offers great value,” he said.

The two-time CEBL champion Edmonton Stingers will quickly become a rival for the Calgary franchise next season. (CEBL)

The CEBL has already been a pipeline for some players to enter the NBA, and with 75 per cent of the league consisting of Canadians, it can offer a realistic option for young players already engaged with the sport.

“Basketball has a swagger, quite honestly, that other sports don’t have. It’s very appealing to youth,” said Sir. “Now to have professional franchises, with the battle of Alberta, in our communities, in our province, as part of a national league, is something that I think is just tremendous for Alberta and for the entire country.”

Dan Vanhooren, head coach of the University of Calgary Dinos basketball team, agreed this will make the sport more competitive locally.

“We have a lot of tremendous athletes in Calgary, and to have more expertise and more people involved in coaching and driving the game and helping each other out would really be great.” 

Shooting for the future

Much like the Calgary Flames and Calgary Stampeders, there will likely be more fierce rivalries than just Edmonton. The CEBL includes the Fraser Valley Bandits to the west and Saskatchewan Rattlers to the east, surrounding the city with potential foes.

If there is early success on the court for the Calgary team, it could create a bright future for the sport in the city after previous attempts did not take hold.

A game program for the Calgary 88’s from their inaugural season in the World Basketball League. (Fun While It Lasted)

There have been two professional teams to play in the city previously. The Calgary 88’s were active from 1988 until 1992, then the Calgary Outlaws lasted only one season in 1994. Oviatt said something feels different this time around.

“This league seems to have a good footing,” he said. “It just adds some excitement for people to have another sporting opportunity in the city.”

A name for the team will be announced in the coming weeks, and the season is set to begin in the spring. As for what this new franchise should be called, Vanhooren seems to feel it should buck the western trend.

“To throw something out there, I don’t know, the Calgary Cowboys. That’s pretty lame,” he said, laughing. “They can come up with something better than that.”





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