Mike Morreale took a pick-me-up with Wednesday’s opening of the Winnipeg Sea Bears, the newest team in the Canadian Elite Basketball League.
The league’s co-founder and commissioner attended the announcement at the Canada Life Center, home of the NHL Winnipeg Jets, which will be a restructured 4,500-man pitch for the Sea Bears.
Winnipeg is the league’s 10th franchise with teams in six cities. It was founded in 2018 with six clubs and started playing the following year.
The league has had some turmoil over the past few months with two teams moving and one passing, but Morreale is feeling positive about their future.
“I’ve never been this strong,” Morreale said. “We’ve done a lot of work. We’ve had a lot of growth in a relatively short period of time, so managing that growth is important, but that was the last thing we had to do today.”
“Everything just fell into place. We’re excited that this day has come and this league is in a much better place not only where the teams are, but also with the people behind them.”
Winnipeg businessman and lawyer David Asper owns the Sea Bears. He was a partner of the Winnipeg Thunder, a professional men’s basketball team that played from 1992-94. The last professional club in the city was the Winnipeg Cyclone (1995-2001).
The name Manatee was named in honor of the Latin name – polar bear. Ursus maritimusmeans ‘manatee’. Manitoba is known for its polar bears in Hudson Bay.
Asper noted that the expression of the polar bear logo on the uniform was not cute.
“The look should be looking at you thinking it’s going to eat you,” Asper said with a smile.
He said he wants to buy a franchise to help the game of basketball grow nationwide and aims to host the 2025 CEBL championship.
“This league is about building Canadian basketball and providing a stepping stone where young people in our country can want to play for Team Canada and really play and find a way to play,” Asper said.
Up to 3 Americans on each roster
CEBL partners with Canadian Basketball. Some of his players also signed contracts with the National Basketball Association.
The league’s 14-player roster includes at least six domestic players, up to three Americans, one international player, and one U Sports player. The salary cap for each team is $8,000 per game.
Morreale said that CEBL teams will split into western and eastern divisions when the fifth season of 20 games begins in May 2023.
Western clubs are the Vancouver Bandits, Edmonton Stingers, Calgary Surge, Saskatchewan Rattlers (Saskatoon) and Winnipeg. Eastern teams are Brampton Honey Badgers, Scarborough Shooting Stars, Ottawa BlackJacks, Niagara River Lions (St. Catharines) and Montreal Alliance.
A series of changes shook the league after the 2022 season ended in early August.
The league has announced that the Guelph Nighthawks, playing in the smallest market in the cycle, are not financially fit enough and the franchise is relocating to Calgary. Renamed 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 outside of the Langley Events Center.
The league then transferred operations of the Newfoundland Growlers franchise in early November to St. John’s decided to suspend it after only one season in the NL. The reason given was that the team’s home at Memorial University lacked the facilities needed for a professional league.
Earlier this week, it was announced that the reigning champion Hamilton Honey Badgers had been permanently relocated to become the Brampton Honey Badgers. The league had to move the franchise as Hamilton’s FirstOntario Center renovations would close the facility in the 2024 and ’25 CEBL seasons.
Morreale said there are talks about future expansion.
“We’re still in these discussions,” he said. “Definitely, a return to the East Coast is something (we’re looking at) close to Quebec City or even Montreal.
“There are other discussions about (about) Kelowna, Victoria and Regina. There’s a lot of interest and it’s really about being very picky about where and when we go.”