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Calgary Surge unveiled as the newest Canadian pro basketball team

Calgary’s newest sports franchise will hit the hardcourt with the name the Calgary Surge.

The Canadian Elite Basketball League made the announcement Wednesday morning at WinSport. That’s where the team will play their home games when their season begins.

Local businessmen Usman Tahir Jutt and Jason Ribeiro helped bring the team to the city. The Calgary franchise originated as the Guelph Nighthawks in 2018—one of six founding franchises.

“We’ve built an ecosystem for basketball that people want to be a part of, and we’re really excited to bring that level of energy and that excitement to the city,” said CEBL Commissioner and league founder Mike Morreale.

“A city that is diverse, that needs basketball, and needs more basketball—this country needs more basketball.”

According to the team’s vice-chairman and president Jason Ribeiro, the name reflects the positive economic and social momentum of Calgary, alongside representation for the city’s diversity and Indigenous culture. The name is also paying tribute to the Nighthawks.

“We recognize that this is a distinct nod to the fact that this was the Guelph Nighthawks and is now the Calgary Surge, and we wanted to honour that the same way that the Calgary Flames honored Atlanta when they moved over here,” he said.

Ribeiro said that the team is planning on working hard to engage with local community groups and fans of basketball in the city, giving them something that “people can be prideful to wear.”

“I think that the teardrop shape is something that replaces the Jordan logo right now, and I could see that on a jacket or a hoodie, and we hope that this is repped across the city and we’re going to work very hard to do it,” Ribeiro said.

Ribeiro, who has been instrumental in enhancing the profile of sports in Calgary, said he’s thrilled to push the game forward in Calgary.

“I am thrilled we are partnering with one of the most exciting leagues in professional sports and am humbled by the opportunity to give back to a city I love in my bones,” said Ribeiro.

“Basketball fans know that the game’s influence transcends what happens on the court and I will do everything I can to ensure the Calgary Surge becomes a magnet for art and culture, economic development, and civic pride across all four corners of the city.”

Logo of the new CEBL franchise, the Calgary Surge. CONTRIBUTED

Right fit for Calgary team ownership

Ribero said that his and Jutt’s ownership of the team came about after the CEBL had been unable to find the right franchise owners for the team.

“I don’t think we ever imagined this, but when we heard that there was a team coming to Calgary that they’ve not found the right fit for them, the story goes I literally sent a screenshot of the press release and I put a question mark, and he says ‘yes, let’s do it,'” Ribeiro said.

“I think our backgrounds in business research, community engagement, media and broadcasting, we feel well rounded enough to be able to bring this to the people in a way that we’re comfortable with, and we’re confident that this can be a successful venture.”

Jutt said that his background of working with youth, and the importance of building youth sport, made him motivated to co-purchase the team.

“I love Calgary and have chosen to build my life and family here. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of the Calgary Surge and combine my passions for sport and community and youth development,” he said.

“I think the ability to be able to bring something like this to Calgary from a sport perspective, and how it’s going to interplay particularly with the youth of the city, that’s what’s getting me motivated, and going to make sure that this is going to be a success going forward.”

Emphasis on Canadian athletes and community engagement

Morreale said that the CEBL has been careful in how they organize their teams, and have always put an emphasis on putting opportunities for Canadian athletes first.

“If you look across our league, we’re blessed with tremendous coaches, some Canadian, some Americans, some international, but all of our general managers are Canadian,” he said.

“The CEBL was born with an idea to showcase our best athletes, but also to develop our next level of athletes.”

Morreale pointed to the Nighthawks’ history of engagement in Guelph as a model for the Calgary Surge to continue. That team did more than 200 community events in 2021.

The league also has a youth sports draft day each year, promoting the development of professional basketball within Canada.

“I promise you that we will be in front of those kids, and maybe we don’t have a contract at the end, yet, but we will provide the platform for them to be seen to be noticed, and we’ll do it the proper way,” Morreale said.

“We’re not going to charge you 50 bucks to come try out at a free agent camp. That’s not how we do things, that’s taking people’s money. You’re going to earn your right to be on the court.”

Jutt said that the team will be focusing every one of their engagements in the community through a community based lens.

“For me, success is going to look like the way that youth connect with this team and the way that we’re able to connect with our youth,” he said.

“For us to go and pick Jack James High School to come today was a deliberate choice to bring those kids out here, some of them had never been to WinSport before, and this is their first time at this facility, which a lot of us may take for granted.

“But for people in a certain area of this city to have never been to a place that as has meant so much to Calgary, and now today they’re going to leave with these incredible memories, it’s our job to make sure we continue to engage them wherever they are, and then find ways for them to excessively come back.”

He called it a two-way commitment that embraces the diversity of Calgary, and new-immigrants to the city.

“That’s the reason why both of us got involved. And that’s why we’re gonna continue to make sure that this is a success,” he said.

Building sport in Calgary

Sport Calgary president and CEO, Catriona Le May Doan, said that having a professional basketball team in Calgary would inspire the next generation of athletes.

“It was said right at the beginning about being here and WinSport as a legacy facility, I live here because of that legacy, I chose to move here to train, I chose to stay here and raise my children, and this is going to be an inspiration for the next generation,” Le May Doan said.

“We need that. We need that in our world right now, we need that in our community—we need sport.”

Le May Doan said that Sport Calgary would be working with the Calgary Surge on community engagement to build sport in the city.

“We’re going to keep them busy, and these guys know it.”

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that anytime there is more sport in Calgary, it’s a victory.

“I think people like Catriona Le May Doan will tell you that the more sport the better,” she said.

“It engages our kids, it engages our seniors, it gets everybody out and involved and it’s only ever good for the city.”

Details on the team and league

The game style features FIBA rules that differ somewhat from NBA and NCAA rules that Calgarians may be more familiar with.

Team colours are red and black and feature grey and white accents. The icon is a hawk with a wing shape that represents all four quadrants of the city uniting as one. The teardrop-styled graphic is a deliberate acknowledgement of the franchise’s origins as the “Nighthawks” and the team’s fans across the country.

Fans wanting to pick up a shirt or hat from the exclusive launch collection of Surge merchandise, can do so starting today at www.calgarysurge.ca.

The Canadian Elite Basketball league has 10 teams in six provinces. Seventy-one per cent of rostered players are Canadian – the highest of any pro league in the country.

So far nine CEBL players have picked up NBA contracts.

The CEBL season runs May through August.