I have a long history with minor league basketball; it started with the Albany Patroons and the Continental Basketball Association; it evolved to a five-year stint with the Premier Basketball League, and continues today as the National Basketball League of Canada commences its fourth campaign.
During that time, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Rob Spon. He was an assistant coach in the CBA; he was a head coach for several teams in the PBL, and he spent three seasons in the NBL-C. He was recently hired as the head coach for the PBL’s top team, the Rochester RazorSharks, and I’m sure he’ll be able to guide them to their fifth league title without any trouble.
Rob Spon is a basketball coach, through and through. In the late 1990’s, he earned a title in the International Basketball Association, a league that spanned between the Canadian Prairies and the Midwest U.S. border states. Yep, nothing like a Dakota Wizards / Saskatchewan Hawks home-and-away series…
My best memories of Sponnie came during the 2010-11 Premier Basketball League campaign. At that time, Sponnie was hired as the head coach of the Quebec Kebs, a perennial cellar-dwelling team. With some key acquisitions and signings, Sponnie turned the Kebs into a contender virtually overnight.
And while he tried to win every game – as all coaches truly should – his main opponent seemed to not be the team his squad faced. His main opponents were the officials.
I was working with the PBL at that time as a statistician and assistant to the Director of League Operations, so I had close contact with players, coaches and team owners. And apparently Sponnie had my phone number on speed dial every time the Kebs lost.
After a double-overtime loss against Halifax in February 2011, I received a call from Sponnie. “Chuck, the officiating here is terrible, it’s just terrible, the refs didn’t re-set out fouls in overtime and we got assessed technicals that we didn’t deserve…”
Okay. I’ll take care of it.
A few days later… another phone call after another game. “Chuck, the officiating here is terrible, it’s just terrible, we gotta do something about it, my guy Ralphy Holmes received a charge foul when it should have been a blocking foul and two shots…”
Mind you, the Kebs actually WON that game.
It’s March 2011. The Premier Basketball League playoffs are underway, and the Quebec Kebs are in Rochester to play the RazorSharks in a best-of-three series. As Quebec is the higher seed, they play the Sharks in Game 1 at Blue Cross Arena.
The game turns into a nasty, lopsided affair. The biggest argument involved a 3-point basket by Quebec’s Royce Parran in Game 1, a shot that was eventually scored a 2-pointer, despite Parran being two feet behind the arc when he made the shot. The game went into overtime, and the Sharks won 114-110.
As I drove back to Albany, I knew that Quebec head coach Rob Spon would call me and complain about the officiating. Trust me, every time the Kebs lost, he would call me. And every phone call would be, “Chuck, the officiating in the PBL is terrible, it’s just terrible…”
Phone’s ringing. Caller ID says it’s Rob Spon. I’m not taking the call. Last thing I need is Sponnie kvetching about the officiating and I have to hear it all the way from Rochester to Albany.
Five minutes later. Phone ringing. Caller ID says it’s Rob Spon. Sorry, I don’t have time for this. I’ll let the call go to voicemail.
Ten minutes later. Phone ringing. Caller ID says it’s Melissa Dion, the PR director for the Kebs. She was riding with the Kebs on their travel bus. I pick up the phone; it’s probably involving game-day plans for Game 2 of the playoffs. “Hi Melissa, how’s it going?”
“Hi Chuck, Coach Spon wants to talk to you, here Coach, here’s the phone.”
And before I could tell Melissa to NOT hand Sponnie the phone… I heard…
“Chuck, the officiating in the PBL is terrible, it’s just terrible…”
Damn it. Caller ID failed me. Ha ha ha ha… Lesson learned. Let people vent. It’s better than having them say or do something that could be detrimental to the league as a whole.
The Kebs eventually won game 2 of that three-game series, but lost game 3 in an all-out battle. Sponnie later moved to the NBL-C, coaching several teams.
Earlier this week, I received the news that Sponnie was signed as the head coach of the Rochester RazorSharks. That’s a prime gig. And I expect Sponnie to win a championship and earn a ring.
And hopefully the next call I receive from him will start with, “Hey Chuck, hope all is going well…”
And it won’t be, “Chuck, the officiating here is terrible, it’s just terrible…”