The Schenectady Legends begin their courtship of basketball fans west of Albany this week with a pair of Independent Basketball Association games at a new venue.
Formerly the Albany Legends, the organization has moved in the past few years from the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany to the high school gym at Christian Brothers Academy and now to the Duanesburg Area Community Center.
The DACC will host two games — Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. — between the Legends and the Racine Storm, a team from Wisconsin that plays in the same league as the Legends.
It is a chance for the Legends to introduce themselves to basketball fans in Schenectady County, where they will be exploring their options for a new venue.
“The goal with this is to make sure we fill that place, get some people from out in that area,” said Legends interim head coach Ben Smith. “So for us to reach out to the Schenectady-area communities, we’re building a fan base. We’re showing them a little bit of the brand.”
One of the options for a more permanent home for the Legends is the Schenectady Armory, which is being refurbished by co-owner Ray Legere.
Legere and Legends president Steve Miller have spoken about the possibility of bringing the Legends to the Armory once it is renovated, and both have said it’s a possibility that excites them.
“When we’re ready, I would be more than happy to have them there,” Legere said. “We’re looking forward to bringing them there, but our plans and our timeframe and everything is really not up for release at this point.”
“If that becomes a viable option, then we definitely want to look at it,” Miller said. “Right now, we’ll see how it goes with Duanesburg for a couple games. If it goes well, we’ll either go with a winter season there or a spring season.”
The IBA has two seasons, a winter season and a spring season. The two games against Racine are part of the spring season, and will count toward the record of both teams, even though they are the only games the Legends are playing this season.
The Legends are taking advantage of what the IBA calls a branding season. When a team moves, the league allows that team to play a handful of games, all at home, to introduce itself to the new fan base and avoid the regular financial stresses of a full season, which includes 10 home games and 10 on the road. It allows the team’s executives an opportunity to get a feel for the landscape of their new home.
The DACC could be the Legends’ home for a couple seasons, though, as work on the Armory is in the early stages.
“We’re still in the design phase,” Legere said. “What we’re looking to do is to optimize the potential of the building to assist in the redevelopment of Schenectady. There’s a lot of variables involved in that, but we want to make sure we can do the best for the location.”
AT THE DACC
The most recent move and the desire to eventually find a home in the city should not come as too much of a surprise, considering several of the organization’s executives have strong ties to Schenectady.
Miller is a Union College alumni, vice president of sales and operations Mike Coelho is a 20-year Schenectady resident, and board of directors member Nick Dean is a Schenectady resident and former coach for Schenectady County Community College.
It didn’t hurt, either, that the city treated the Legends to a day downtown a couple of years ago, which made a lasting impression on Miller.
“We got the idea a couple years ago,” he said. “The mayor did a Legends day and rolled out the red carpet for us down on State Street. The guys got lunch at one of the pizza places, gelato at another place, a free movie, hair cuts at Paul Mitchell’s, and they got to go over in one of the C-130s. We started thinking about it at that point, and a lot of our season-ticket holders are from the Schenectady area.”
The DACC holds 500 fans, which is considerably smaller than the organization’s previous venues. If the smaller arena attracts the same size crowd the Legends have had at previous venues, though, it could create a better environment in which to play, and in which to watch a game, said Legends guard and co-captain E.J. Gallup.
“I think creating a good atmosphere is important, especially when you’re playing at home, and for people coming to watch the game, too,” he said. “That’s good for us, good for the league. I think eventually, when we go into the winter league, we will be able to sell out a bigger venue. Springtime is a different time for basketball. But we’re excited to go to Duanesburg. They’re welcoming us with open arms, and it’s a good opportunity for people from other communities to see us.”
Gallup is a Gloversville High School graduate who began his collegiate career with the University at Albany before transferring to Coastal Carolina. He also has played professionally overseas for ABC Amsterdam, Ratiopharm Ulm in Germany and TBB Trier in Germany.
In the 2011 season, Gallup shot 51 percent from three-point range for the Legends. He put that accuracy on display when the Legends visited Duanesburg in February.
“You should see the kids,” Smith said. “We went up to Duanesburg and E.J. starts shooting some shots, going through ball racks and hitting shots. Jaws are just dropped open, eyes are saucers, they just loved it. That’s our fan base.”
LEARNING THE GAME
Miller said the Legends have learned a lot since they started up in 2010, a year after the Albany Patroons closed up shop.
“What we’ve found is it’s more about finding the right size for the business, in terms of costs, that’s obviously number 1,” Miller said, “and when you put 500 in a gym that fits 500, it feels like 15,000.”
The Armory in Albany holds upward of 3,000 for basketball games. The Legends were drawing somewhere in the hundreds.
When they moved to CBA, the gym was smaller, but the Legends still couldn’t fill it.
“Maximum capacity in our gym is 1,200,” said CBA athletic director Blaine Drescher. “So if you think about the coaches and the players, I would say, realistically, it’s about 1,000.”
“It depended on the day. Friday and Saturday nights, we usually got between 350 and 500 people,” Smith said. “On Sundays, we had matinee games and there were maybe 100 people there.”
That’s a lot of empty seats and lost revenue.
Miller also has learned a handy tool to fill those seats and, at the same time, be more cost-effective with the team’s roster.
In the Albany Legends’ inaugural season, they brought in former NBA player Kenny Satterfield. Miller eventually found that local basketball fans are more interested, though, in watching players with local ties and overseas potential.
The 11-man roster listed on the team’s website, www.schenectadylegends.com, boasts eight players with ties to local high schools or colleges, including the most recent addition, Saint Rose product Dominykas Milka.
“Right now, we’re a break-even team,” Miller said. “Last year was our first year we broke even. That was our third year. And that was really the business plan, to try to break even by the third year. That was a combination of putting more people in the seats and bringing in more local players who brought people in. It’s a combination of that and of us getting smarter with how we manage our costs.”
Having local players helps the team manage costs a bit, too. The players don’t make much money, but if a player is from out of the area, the team pays for an apartment or room and some meal money. As far as their wages go, Miller said “Kids are making anywhere from $100 a game to . . . well, sometimes you have to pay a big [man] a little bit bigger.”
Another lesson the Legends had to learn during their first few seasons was that cash on hand was nearly as important as the year-end figures.
“You’ve still got to pay for the building, the players, the coaches, the league and the travel whether anybody showed up last night or not,” Miller said. “Those things, you have to learn. If you have a big building and you haven’t had a big sponsor pay yet, you’re in trouble.
“Much to the chagrin, sometimes, of my wallet, we have never stiffed anyone. It’s better to lose your money than to lose your reputation.”
WHY THEY PLAY
The IBA is no place to make a living — not on $100 per game, even during a full 20-game season.
What it is, however, is a stepping stone to a decent job in the sport.
“I tell guys, basically, you want to use this as a tool to get overseas, where you can make an actual living playing basketball,” Gallup said. “So this is more of a stepping stone or a tool to, hopefully, get exposure and then get jobs overseas where they can make a living. I don’t think anyone does this for the money or to make a living. To get paid a little bit to help out is fine, but I think most guys understand this is something you use to try to get a job playing basketball.”
Gallup is not the only Legend who has played overseas. Lloyd Johnson played in Italy and Evan Lane played in Tunisia. Former Legends to play professionally overseas include Will Harris (Denmark), Scotty McRae (Chile and Italy) and Prince Jackson (Italy).
The team’s website says more than 80 percent of the organization’s alumni have parlayed their experience with the Legends into jobs playing overseas or in the NBDL, the NBA’s development league.
“In the past, the Legends has been a great tool for guys,” Gallup said. “We’ve sent a lot of guys overseas, guys who come out of college and are looking try to build their resumés.”
Those resumé-builders will play for their peanuts and for the attention of their new potential fanbase in the two showcase games against Racine, but they also make a few fans away from the IBA through their community involvement.
The Legends have had a relationship with St. Catherine’s Center for Children, with some of the Legends playing with the children each Saturday, Miller said. Also, they have arranged through several sponsors to have a few dozen kids from the Boys & Girls Club attend the opening game.
“At the end of the day, there’s three things we’re about,” Miller said. “It’s about trying to provide some good, quality family entertainment; it’s about giving players an opportunity; and it’s about trying to give back to the community and do things with the Boys & Girls Club [and other community and youth groups]. Those things the TV doesn’t always see, those things are always really rewarding.”