We are in the rarified air of the NBA playoffs these days, and most everybody is glued to their tubes watching the start of the Western and Eastern Conference finals. The games are the talk of the town on the street sides, at schools, in the barrooms, at the barbershops, in the workplace, wherever, whenever.
There was a time less than a decade or so ago when semi-pro basketball was the talk of the town in the streets of Belize, especially in Belize City. It was not necessarily a case of the NBA being any less galvanizing than it is today, but we loved us some semi-pro basketball. After all, the game here was playing at a remarkably high level.
Sponsors were routinely bringing in college level talent and even professional overseas players to support our local stars, and the game had spread its wings to the northernmost parts of our country, not to mention the south and west. The game was at once national and international. Semi-pro was sizzling hot.
In those days, six teams of 15 players each were registered. A cool 90 players were making money, for as many as five months in the year, and when you add to that the fact that clubs had to have coaches, managers, statisticians, trainers, flagmen, etc., you were looking at close to 150 people who were directly benefiting from the industry that was semi-pro basketball.
But then some big people in their wisdom decided that it was not worth the trouble.
It wasn’t enough that with semi-pro basketball everybody got a piece of the pie – not just the players and coaches and those directly involved with the teams. The spill-off economic benefits were tremendous. Everybody was eating – the hairdressers, the nails people, the boutique owners, the taxi operators, security officers, the food vendors, dancers, singers, the nightclubs, the meat man, the vegetable man. Everybody ate from the semi-pro basketball table. Ask them.
Still, they said it wasn’t sustainable.
We cannot say there is a direct correlation between the collapse of semi-pro basketball and the burgeoning crime rate in Belize. But what we can say is that we know of no nascent industry that filled the void. None.
Either way, semi-pro basketball was allowed to fold. And in its place we now have inter-office basketball. And that, dearly beloved, has become the highest level of basketball being played in the land. Nothing against inter-office basketball, there is a place for that. But when inter-office becomes your crème de la crème of basketball tournaments, Houston, you know we have a problem.
We have lamented at some length in this space before about the demise of semi-pro basketball. This is not new. What is new today is that the oven that was the Civic Center is no more, and we have no indoor facility with a wooden court in the City to take its place. Everybody and their granny could have seen that it was only a matter of time before the court at Civic would be had by the elements, and that the building had become an unbearable laughing stock, soon to reach expiration status.
The fact that we have reached this point in this the year of the Lord 2012, with no indoor facility, no court, and a bunch of up-and-coming talent says something about where we are as a country where sports development/human development is concerned. People in high places see sports as a waste of time. That’s how it seems. The budget for sports has languished at the same sorry amount for over a decade now, and we repeat: the Civic did not become an eyesore and an inhospitable arena overnight.
But we have had to listen to successive governments promise a world-class basketball facility, and we are still waiting.
First a contract was signed in 2007 for a new “state-of-the-art basketball facility” at the Marion Jones Sports Complex, after ground was broken and re-broken in official ceremonies several times over. Then it was unsigned – that contract was shredded.
Then it was on again. Then it was off again. Now we hear of a facility being constructed at the Marion Jones that will temporarily house basketball until a new, more exclusive structure can be built elsewhere in the City – at a yet to be determined location.
Meanwhile, our emerging young players in the old capital must risk injury practicing on the pothole-laden wooden court at the condemned Civic, or on the concrete at the SJC gymnasium and play their tournaments on the small wooden court privately owned at the Bird’s Isle.
They say that damn near 70 percent of our population is considered young, and they’re not all in school, yet we find ourselves singing the same sad song where semi-pro basketball in particular, and sports in general, is concerned.
Call it the blues, or nostalgia, or unconditional love even. Call it what you like. We just know that we can do better. The young Devin Daley reminds us that out of the concrete can grow a rose. It is written.