The Canadian Elite Basketball League is coming to Montreal next summer

“The actual basketball community in Montreal at all levels is really tremendous. The only thing missing is that pro angle.”

It’s no secret that the city of Montreal loves basketball. Just ask the thousands of people who attended the sold out NBA exhibition games from 2012 to 2018. Or the crowds who flooded the streets of downtown to celebrate when the Toronto Raptors took home a Championship trophy in June 2019. Next summer, Montreal will be getting a team of its own by way of the Canadian Elite Basketball League. 2022 will be the fourth season for the CEBL, and with the expansion to the city, they’ll be eight teams strong.

“What we tried to do is be in the top 15 municipalities, and you can see us changing as we move forward,” explains Mike Morreale, the CEO and commissioner of the CEBL. “We started with six teams across the country and added Ottawa last year. For us, adding Montreal is a major market.” Prior to gaining these honorific titles, Morraele played as a receiver in the CFL, earning the Grey Cup Championships in both 1996 and 1999. He also served as the league’s Players’ Association President from 2012 to 2014.

Current CEBL teams are located in large to mid-sized markets such as Guelph, Hamilton and Niagara Falls. “These markets are certainly tremendous for us because they are, in most cases, the only big game in town. We’re a professional league filled with professional players that play at the highest level in the country.”

Indeed, there is a strong emphasis on homegrown talent throughout the league. 70% of each team’s roster must hail from Canada. There are also some notable national talents behind the scenes. Montreal-born two-time NBA Champion Joel Anthony serves as a consultant for the Hamilton Honey Badgers.

“We have dozens of NBA G-League players, we have NCAA stars, U Sports stars — it’s a well rounded group,” Morreale says. “We’ve missed seeing them, because so many leave Canada to go play overseas. So this is our chance to bring them home, and for them to build their brand locally as well.”

Morreale sees Montreal as the beginning of the CEBL expanding into Eastern Canada.

“Montreal has its challenges, at least with the language. We want to make sure that we are properly prepared and have a local flavour to it. The actual basketball community in Montreal at all levels is really tremendous. The only thing missing is that pro angle, and we believe it’s a void that will be filled in a pretty profound way. I think fans will be excited to see what we do.”

“There are two to three [venues] that would be suitable for this level. We’re still in the final stages of lease negotiation and paperwork. Where we’re going is going to be a great place, it’s going to be a fun place and a great home for the new Montreal franchise.”

It’s been speculated that the Verdun Auditorium will be the spot, but Morraele can’t confirm this. “I kind of spilled the beans (about the team) a little bit early, on purpose! Now, it’s just about finalizing lease arrangements, just technical stuff. There’s no major hiccups. Everything seems to be going real well.”

Down the line, Morreale can envision the CEBL doubling in size. “I see us being at 16 teams across the country, in every major province and into a divisional model, playing a 28- or 32-game schedule.”

Following Montreal’s landing in the league, he teases that a Quebec City team could soon follow. “Quebec City is certainly on the radar. We hope it will become an instant rival to Montreal!” ■

For more about the CEBL, please visit the league’s website.

This column originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Cult MTL. For more Montreal sports coverage, visit our Sports section.