The Ghost Of Mayor Drapeau And Illusions Of Grandeur Lost

The other day I was listening to a local sports radio talk show and discovered there's some interest in bringing an NBA team to the city.

Basketball? Really? In a city that could not support baseball over the long haul, barely supports its football team that's been around on and off since 1949 and Impact with its dipping attendance despite MLS being the fastest growing league having recently surpassed the NBA?

With such a spotty record we want to now bring a sport with next to no roots in the city? Really?

Based on what? Our population? Frankly, I admit I'm just not seeing the rationale on how this could work over the short-term; let alone in the long-term.

Have we already forgotten the Montreal Matrix? Seems to me, one step toward getting a pro team is to prove you can support smaller ones, no? Small steps and all that.

Maybe if they add poker machines at games they may have a shot I reckon.

Yes. It is true basketball is growing in Canada; particularly in Ontario and slowly in Quebec. The country is now consistently producing high if not number one overall drafts in the NBA and regularly have starters in top flight American college programs from Kansas to Gonzaga. Basketball Canada is finally doing something right and they deserve full credit for it.

A similar process unfolded when the Alouettes (Alouettes are Larks by the way for those of you wondering) came back to Montreal in the mid 1990s. Quebec quickly became the hub for manufacturing dominant football in the University ranks led by the Laval Rouge et Or and later Carribins of UM.

However, all this doesn't necessarily translate into maintaining a sports team of a sustained, long-term period. If it were, places like Minnesota (a state mad for hockey and famous for producing legendary players), would have never lost the North Stars.

Realistically and frankly, it takes a willingness to lose money (which we've already witnessed with the last consortium who owned the Expos in its last days are not privy to do) and stay the course in order to build a franchise from novelty to champion.

Not in Montreal. We can't be bothered with those things. We swing for the fences.

Call it the ghost of Jean Drapeau. His grand dreams stalk us at every turn.

Let's go over a couple of reasons why I think this, while appreciated by sports fans, is not all that a good idea.

Over the years I've made plain my view arguing Montreal is not a sports town but more of a city partial to short-term events. Our short and hedonistic attention span is perfect for one day events.

Indeed Montreal is outstanding for festivals, F1 racing, hosting pre-season baseball, international competitions and Grey Cups). Short and sweet with no commitments. It's almost as if we traded our championship mentality for the less stressful attraction of festivals.

Nonetheless, whenever someone brings up the thought of bringing a pro team here we can't resist. We want to sit at the big boy table but still want to be breast fed. After all, our financial inferiority complex towards Toronto never strays too far off our psyche.

It's a mentality last solidified during the glory years of this city, say, roughly between the 1950s and mid-1980s when the Habs were generating dynasties every decade, the Alouettes were winning titles and the Expos were promising darlings poised to join their brethren in the ranks of perennial success.

Alas, the good times are no more but the mentality remains. I don't begrudge this nor do I find it abnormal. Many fan bases with a rich history cling on to the past; nay, entire nations still harken back to their respective golden ages.

It's just that it should be tempered to a certain degree with pragmatic and realistic notions and ideas.

And thinking we're a first rate sports town, in my opinion, is not realistic anymore.

The fact we're event driven became all too evident to me the day the Expos skipped town. It's not a sports culture and client base meant to support a team over 41 (or 81) dates anymore. Our delusions of grandeur are far in excess of our willingness to pay and support to achieve it. We want to be at the big boy table but want the other guy to pay.

That goes for both ownership and fans.

Once in a blue moon, Montreal is lucky to have a good owner. But they have been few and far between. Obviously, there was Charles Bronfman. Today, it's Joey Saputo and his commitment to the Montreal Impact (though I wonder how long before he too is frustrated with our fickle fan base). Robert Wettenhall has been exemplary providing stable ownership. And finally, of course, the Molsons?

What about George Gillette? The American businessman purchased the Habs in 2001 after the city's local business class failed to step up to the plate. It was perplexing given how much space the team takes up on the cultural side of the equation.  Again, it's Montreal so no surprise as it took an American to see the value and build it into a billion dollar enterprise.

God bless Warren Cromartie and his aim to bring baseball back to Montreal. I wish him luck and do plan to support it financially but I remain somewhat skeptical of the plan.

All this adds up to a healthy skepticism.

Montreal has been a stagnant, if not, a sinking ship for decades now. We're surpassed in many economic metrics by just about every city that matters.

We're no longer calibrated to achieve greatness.

Once upon a time Mayor Drapeau dreamed big. He brought Expo 67, the Expos and Olympics to the city -. He even envisioned a stadium that would accommodate the Alouettes and Expos (which turned out to be the Olympic Stadium) and went as far as to think of an NFL team.

But with these dreams came stark realities and among them is the fact that having a pro sports team demands commitment and loyalty.

And I'm not so sure we have that.


Montreal reminds me of Uncle Rico. Living in the past and confounded on how to progress:

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