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“Basketball is picking up the pace”: Chris Campbell on growing basketball in Canada

Chris Campbell watches a game at Bballnationals

“Basketball’s a bond, basketball is love,” says Chris Campbell, “but there’s a lot more to it.”

Chris Campbell is the Eastern Manager of Bballnationals. “My role is more promoting, marketing, pushing teams out to Bballnationals,” he says.

Campbell is also a basketball builder, striving to facilitate the development of Canadian basketball.

“I build programs for basketball; my job is to create infrastructure that will support the game to grow,” Campbell says. “If it’s a league, if it’s a coaching clinic, parent workshops, whatever it is, if it helps build basketball infrastructure in Canada and internationally, I’m down for it.”

So, naturally, Campbell is down for Bballnationals. He’s travelled from Ontario for the tournament, bringing Motion Basketball with him. And even though it hasn’t been around for all the long, Campbell knows the significance of Bballnationals.

“It’s young, it’s new, but it’s a necessary thing to have,” says Campbell. “We need to be supporting these clubs across Canada.”

“We don’t have enough clubs that are invested into it and if we have more clubs doing this and being a part of it then we can actually make it a bigger development space for our players,” says Campbell, simultaneously revealing his ambition for basketball in Canada but also what’s holding it back.

“It’s a financial undertaking,” says Campbell about growing the game in Canada. "It’s expensive to travel in Canada.”

“My thing is, in Canada we don’t really get a chance to see other basketball clubs,” Campbell says. “Bballnationals is a great experience to get to see someone from Halifax, see someone from the Maritimes, someone from Calgary, someone from, all over, Winnipeg and we all get together and play.”

“It’s been hard to grow the sport in Canada,” says Campbell, “it has been, but it’s necessary”

Campbell, however, won’t be stopped by the challenges of growing basketball in a country whose first love is hockey.

“Basketball’s brand new; you can’t compare hockey to basketball,” says Campbell. Of course, hockey and basketball are different, but it doesn’t mean that basketball can’t get to the level that hockey is in Canada. In order to get there, Campbell points south of the border as a model for how to grow Canadian ball.

“Everyone knows about these big time AAU brands,” says Campbell. “Corporations and people with money are supporting the programs, the players, the sponsors all that stuff.”

“In Canada we don’t have that. We don’t have someone saying, ‘Hey, let me sponsor’ and if we do it’s very little,” explains Campbell. “We need more corporations to put more money into it and if we have more corporations putting money into it then yeah, we can get our kids to go play and have a chance to see Canada.”

Still, Campbell is confident that basketball can not only grow, but flourish, in Canada.

“Basketball is picking up the pace, really, really quickly,” he says. “We will eventually get there and corporations will start turning heads and saying, ‘We really need to start investing in this.’”

He’s not wrong; after the Toronto Raptors 2019 NBA Championship, there were rumblings of tech companies wanting to invest in bringing the WNBA to Toronto. While the feasibility of getting that done in the near future is up to debate. The fact that conversations like those are starting to take place is a big step in the right direction.

If a WNBA team were to cone to Toronto, or anywhere in Canada for that matter, then Campbell would’ve probably seen it all.

“I’m part of the group that saw the Toronto Raptors come,” Campbell says. “I was there, we’re having our first NBA team, I was young, I didn’t understand it, like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’”

“Me and my friends would go to the SkyDome to watch a game and ‘Oh my goodness, that’s Shaquille O’Neal on the court!’ It’s not my TV anymore.”

“From that point to now, look at it, the ACC, now Scotiabank Arena; I remember when I used to run tournaments out of the ACC because there weren’t enough people going to games! So, we used to run tournaments and they’d give us [Toronto Raptors] tickets to sell. We can’t even do that anymore!”

Basketball’s emergence in Canada has been a slow burn; the many, many hours of hard work and labour take years to bear fruit. Perhaps, no one knows that better than Campbell.

“No matter what we do now, the kids don’t see the benefits until two, three years down the line,” he says. “Parents don’t see it either – maybe some parents will see it right away, but a lot of the players that have [understood the work behind the scenes] they come back two, three years later and are like, ‘Coach Chris, when you did this, that was crazy! You know what, that was the most crazy experience! I never expected it before.’ Those are the experiences that we’re trying to create.”

For many of the kids here in Langley, Bballnationals is that experience.

“When you go on your first roller coaster it’s a crazy feeling,” says Campbell, “but you don’t really appreciate that roller coaster ride until you get on some other roller coasters, you know?”

“Or if you haven’t gone on a roller coaster again, then you’re like, ‘Man, I really miss that roller coaster ride.’”

In some ways, the Toronto Raptors playoff run was like a basketball roller coaster ride; all the joy that followed gave Canada it’s moment in basketball history. As great as that was, it’s not enough for Chris Campbell; he wants there to be a lot more to it.

By: Mohak Sood

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