Visit the Snake Pit for a Rattlers Game

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Eric Kibi of the Saskatchewan Rattlers goes up for a shot during the team’s game against Niagara last week. For more on the Rattlers, please see Page 6. (Photo by Cam Hutchinson)

Professional basketball in Saskatoon has never looked better than it did last Thursday. 

That is stretching my memory though. Saskatoon’s first brush with pro hoops was darn near 30 years ago, and the last ended in the spring of 2002. The game has changed and improved since then.

There were 3,399 folks at the game, filling the sides of the lower bowl at SaskTel Centre, aka the Snake Pit. The crowd got more and more engaged as the game went along. 

In the final minutes, fans jumped out of their seats on Saskatchewan Rattlers buckets, and some eyes were covered with hands when a final, desperation Rattlers shot clunked off the side of the rim. The miss gave the Niagara River Lions a 99-97 victory. 

The game wasn’t about the final score though, although wins are always better than the alternative. If the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) is to succeed, it will be about the entertainment package and quality of play.

The 196 points scored in 40 minutes pretty much speak for themselves, unless you are a fan of defensive basketball. Are there those among us who remember the days when there was no shot clock in basketball? Boring.

The Rattlers game passed the eyeball test and got an A on my report card.

The entertainment package came with music, a mascot, a good on-court announcer and a team of dancers. They, meaning the dancers, were dressed more provocatively than those we/I have seen at any other sporting event in the city. And there’s no way I am going to put a grade on that. 

The music had a dance beat. There was no Sweet Caroline on the play list, although I never get tired of hearing it. 

The names of the players, with the exception of Saskatoon’s Michael Linklater, didn’t mean much in the early going. At the end of the game, people were calling out their favourites by their last names — the ones on the backs of the Rattlers’ white jerseys. 

Linklater played a handful of minutes in the third quarter. He got a basket and played ferocious defence. 

People might not know that seven of the 10 players on game rosters have to be Canadian. That is a good thing.

There are those who say the Canadian Football League should reduce the number of nationals, as the league likes to call them. It is the CFL, with an emphasis on Canadian. Leave the Canadians alone or we will rise up and quit saying “please” and “thank you.”

Did you know that the second highest number of players in the National Basketball Association are from Canada? Many players in the CEBL play pro ball internationally in the winter and are home for the summer.  

As most of you know, a Canadian, Dr. James Naismith, invented basketball. In 1891, he took a soccer ball and a peach basket into a school gym in Massachusetts and the rest is history. He would never have envisioned people seven feet tall playing the game. He would have had to put the peach basket higher and higher, all the way to 10 feet from the floor. 

He was asked why he came up with the game.

“The invention of basketball was not an accident. It was developed to meet a need. Those boys simply would not play Drop the Handkerchief.” 

He sounds like a bit of a crusty bugger. Maybe you would be too, if you spent your days hauling around a peach basket and a soccer ball. The league trophy pays homage to Naismith.

Another beauty of the Rattlers game was the fact it started at 7 p.m. and was over at 9. A family can watch the game and have the kids in bed before 10.

Clearly, fans went home happy. Many were heard to say they would be back for the May 16 game. One young fellow said he would be buying season tickets — there are 1,200 season-ticket holders currently.

Those happy fans will spread the word about the league.

I’m betting there will be more than 3,399 people at the SaskTel Centre for this week’s game. 

They won’t be disappointed with what they see.