Montreal is known as a hockey city first and foremost, but this summer a new team is eager to show the 514 can embrace basketball too.
The first home opener in Montreal Alliance team history was a rousing success Sunday at Verdun Auditorium. A sold-out crowd of 3,700 watched Dominic Green nearly match a CEBL record with a 36-point performance, including 20 in the second half in an 80-70 comeback win over the Scarborough Shooting Stars.
Rap superstar J. Cole played his second game for the Shooting Stars, and he was a non-factor. He played just over four minutes off the bench in the first quarter, and didn’t see any playing time the rest of the way. It was a fast, close game between the two teams and Cole looked like a liability on defence early when he took a foul on Green.
After the game, the 25-year-old Green had nothing but praise for Cole, who is 12 years his senior.
“I give him a lot of respect for coming out and playing,” said Green. “He’s giving 100 percent and playing as hard as he could. That was cool to see. A lot of respect, because I listen to his music.”
Lineups snaked around the spiffed up 83-year-old Auditorium prior to game time as people eagerly waited to be allowed in. Inside, it was immediately clear the Alliance was no fly-by-night operation. From the dance team and the VIP standing sections to Zach Zoya’s halftime show and DJ Blaster pumping out rap tunes classic and current, there was a party atmosphere inside that only got more raucous as the home team shook off a disorganized first half to storm back to victory in the second.
“Luguentz is my guy,” said local star Kemy Osse in the postgame. “He played for my brother’s program in Parc-Ex. It’s an honour to play in front of him. Chris Boucher is more my generation. It’s great to see these guys come and support us, it’s great for us and it’s great for the city.”
Both Green and Osse referred to the crowd’s help in giving the Alliance momentum in the second half. Not only did the crowd erupt when Green dropped a pair of pivotal threes, they jeered extra hard whenever Shooting Star veteran Jalen Harris hit the free throw line. The Auditorium is an old barn with bad acoustics, but it can make an audience sound pretty intimidating.
It’s just a first step, but an important one in Montreal’s basketball journey. When not consumed by the storied Montreal Canadiens 24/7, this is a city that tends to embrace events over teams. Right now, though, it’s a good time to be a sports fan in Montreal. The MLS’ CF Montreal is having a strong season, the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes appear to be on the right track again, and Formula One racing is back in June after a two-year hiatus.But it’s the brand new Alliance that has potential to steal the city’s heart. Basketball keeps growing in popularity in Montreal, and now it’s producing NBA-calibre players at a regular rate, with more on the way like NCAA standout Bennedict Mathurin.
Montreal may not be able to support another major league team beyond the Habs and CF Montreal. If one day it gets the opportunity to add a third, basketball might be a more sensible choice than yet another attempt to revive the beloved Montreal Expos. Baseball here comes with emotional baggage and an inevitable stadium controversy. Basketball would comparatively feel like a breath of fresh air, and they could play at the Bell Centre.
Of course, if the Raps have occasional difficulty convincing American players to move north, imagine trying to sell players on living in a primarily French-speaking city.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but it’s hard to watch the Alliance bring the house down in Verdun and not think about what a Montreal NBA team could look like down the road. It could have a few local stars, have halftime shows starring countless Quebec rappers, and even have fashion-forward audiences sporting Montreal brands Quartier is Home, Dime, and New Regime, like they did on Sunday.
A cursory scan of the courtside seats and Instagram afterwards didn’t yield any results regarding Quebec rappers turning up to the game. It was great to see budding hitmaker Zoya headline the halftime show, and the Alliance has a golden opportunity to tighten its relationships with Montreal music even further. Those things will inevitably happen over time as the team’s profile grows.
First thing’s first, Montrealers need to support the Alliance the entire season if they hope to make some noise to the business community. In game one, the Alliance held up their end of the bargain, delivering an entertaining product. Now it’s time to watch if this budding new love affair between the city and a basketball team can keep growing.