19 years ago, St. John’s was denied a chance to be part of NBA history — and these fans haven’t forgotten


On a evening in late October 2003, hundreds of folks crowded into a new enviornment in downtown St. John’s to watch NBA history: the rookie debut of LeBron James — then an 18-year-old rookie however immediately a world icon with a number of championships and MVP titles.

Instead, fans have been left heartbroken — and 19 years later, some need to see the fulfilment of a promise made on that disappointing evening.

On Oct. 23, 2003, the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers descended on Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital for an exhibition matchup, one which was supposed to be the primary basketball sport performed at a newly constructed enviornment — the previous Mile One Centre — and James’s NBA debut.

“You get a chance to see LeBron James’s debut, what’s not to love about that?” stated Matthew Brake, who carpooled that evening with highschool pals from Pasadena — 650 kilometres down the Trans-Canada Highway, on Newfoundland’s west coast. They booked a resort room within the metropolis and waited eagerly from the higher rows of Mile One for tip off. 

Things did not go fairly as deliberate. 

Watch the video above to see archival video from this legendary sports activities fiasco.

Fans took to the ground to assist mop up condensation forward of what was supposed to be an exhibition sport between the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers in St. John’s in October 2003. (CBC Archives)

There was a delay, Brake remembers, then one other delay and one other, as fans sat and watched NBA stars shoot a few buckets in the course of the pre-game warmup.

Notable expertise within the lineup that evening, moreover James, included Vince Carter, Jalen Rose and one other rookie trying to make a title for himself within the league: Chris Bosh, a future NBA Hall of Famer.

“There’s a bunch of children on the ground with towels wiping up one thing. We did not know what was occurring. As time handed, the gamers went away,” stated Brake.

The court docket’s hardwood flooring was soaked with moisture. The metropolis was experiencing an atypically humid, late October day, and the physique warmth from hundreds of excited fans within the sold-out enviornment did not assist the scenario.

‘I felt terrible’

Glen Grunwald, normal supervisor of the Raptors on the time, was courtside as officers mentioned what to do.

Play the sport and threat harm to some of the largest names and property within the league? Or cancel and disappoint fans, some of whom, like Brake, had travelled from far exterior the town simply to catch a glimpse of NBA stars up shut? 

“It was a nice vibe within the metropolis and everybody was excited. It was a distinctive place, too, for the gamers to go. They did not know a lot about St. John’s or Newfoundland, in order that they have been excited for that,” Grunwald instructed CBC News.

A man holding a microphone standing on a basketball court.
Glen Grunwald, then normal supervisor of the Toronto Raptors, delivers the dangerous information to basketball fans at Mile One Centre in St. John’s. (CBC Archives)

Unfortunately, Grunwald stated, as a result of of the condensation on the ground, the court docket wasn’t protected to play on.

“The air went out of the balloon sort of very slowly. Finally the NBA referees, who make these choices about cancelling video games, stated, ‘I’m sorry, we won’t go ahead with this sport. We tried to clear it up but it surely simply will not work,'” he stated.

Grunwald was handed a microphone and given the thankless activity of delivering the dangerous information. For fans who have been in attendance, it’d be Grunwald’s speech saying the cancellation, after a lengthy stroll to centre court docket, that they bear in mind most.

“I felt terrible as a result of a lot of folks got here up to me after that and stated, ‘Hey, I drove from Corner Brook … to come to this sport,'” stated Grunwald.

“It was actually, actually robust. No one needed to see that occur, nobody needed to come all the best way there and then not play the sport. It was actually unlucky.”

A second chance squashed

Boos rained down from rafters of Mile One. Some of the extra unruly fans threw meals onto the ground. 

But in his devastating speech, Grunwald gave native fans some hope, with a promise that the Raptors would be again inside two years.

“We had made that dedication to do this. Unfortunately after that season I acquired fired,” he stated with a snort. 

“Things sort of fell by the wayside and it did not occur.”

Rookie sensation LeBron James was in St. John’s in 2003 to play the sport. The sport was cancelled, and James’s NBA debut would have to wait. (CBC Archives)

But Grunwald’s plans to return did not finish when his tenure with the Raptors did. Some years later, whereas on the helm of the New York Knicks, he had plans in place to deliver that membership to St. John’s.

“I had the Washington Wizards lined up to play the Knicks within the 2014 pre-season in St. John’s and sadly I acquired fired once more,” he stated, laughing once more. 

“The Wizards did not need to go ahead after I acquired let go. If I might simply hold a job, we might get a sport again there.” 

Keep campaigning, says former GM

The fans haven’t forgotten Grunwald’s promise both. 

That’s why Brake is spearheading the marketing campaign #RaptorsToTheRock to deliver an NBA sport again to St. John’s subsequent 12 months, which is able to be the twentieth anniversary of the sport that by no means occurred. The Raptors have been enjoying exhibition video games in cities exterior of Toronto this 12 months.

Brake is utilizing Twitter to attain whoever he can, together with gamers who have been at that sport in October 2003, incomes himself a response from Vince Carter, who stated he remembers that evening, and native basketball hero Carl English, who stated he is going to do what he can to assist the trigger. 

An image of an arena with a sign that reads Mary Brown's Centre.
Mary Brown’s Centre — then often known as Mile One Centre — was the scene of the NBA sport that by no means occurred. Fans are hoping to deliver again one other sport subsequent 12 months. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

“The Toronto Maple Leafs have been right here a couple of years in the past, they did their coaching camp and pre-season sport right here,” stated Brake. “There was nothing however constructive issues to say about it. Twenty years after the cancelled sport looks as if the right time to come again for a little bit of retribution.”

Grunwald stated he would love to see a plan come collectively.

His recommendation? Keep campaigning. 

“It was a big day in a lot of methods. Both good and dangerous. It’s a good story within the sense that it is legendary in phrases of the way it all got here collectively and fell aside and who was concerned,” he stated.

“I actually do hope the video games can get going again on the market once more. It is difficult and issues have to fall in place however I believe the fans on the market ought to let the Raptors know they nonetheless need the sport.”

Read extra from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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