Windsor's Kevin Loiselle scores on a rebound in front of London's Darin Mency during the Clash at the Colosseum at Caesars Windsor. (TYLER BROWNBRIDGE/The Windsor Star)
With London Bridge is falling down blaring from the stadium sound system and an appreciative crowd rising to their feet in unison, Windsor Express guard Stefan Bonneau cradled the ball and watched the clock run out.
Looking around at the gathered crowd that attended Wednesday’s Express-London Lightning game at Caesars Windsor Colosseum, National Basketball League of Canada commissioner Paul Riley couldn’t help but be excited.
In fact, he was so impressed that Riley unleashed the line of the night.
“It’s beautiful,” Riley said as his eyes scanned the facility. “It’s excitement and it is a spectacle.
“And a Colosseum is where you come to see a spectacle.”
And come they did.
It was billed as the Clash at the Colosseum, but the colossus at the Colosseum might have proven a better handle.
Used to sparse gatherings of under 1,000 at the WFCU Centre, the Express players couldn’t believe their eyes when they took the court.
“It was new,” guard Darren Duncan said after Windsor’s 86-78 victory. “This was the first time we’ve really had a home-court advantage and you could see the result.
“If we keep getting crowds like this, we’ll keep winning games. We came out wired up and ready to play.
“We’re not used to having this kind of crowd, but the now the key is to keep them.”
They didn’t fill every nook and cranny of the Caesars Windsor arena, but the attendance of 2,800 left the facility easily 75-80 per cent packed.
It was a festive atmosphere, with Windsor fans taunting the London players, a band playing and celebrities like former world boxing champ Thomas Hearns and ex-NBA player Derrick Coleman among the crowd.
When Dartis Willis and his co-owners brought the Express to town two years ago, this is what they envisioned.
The night proved one, perhaps two things about our town.
Windsor definitely wants basketball, but maybe, Windsor doesn’t want basketball at the WFCU Centre.
Riley pondered the same notion.
“The enthusiasm is here,” Riley said. “We know the fans in Windsor love sports and love basketball. I think what the challenge has been for the team is the location they play in.
“You can have the nicest arena in the world, but if it’s outside of the core and people find it a real trek to get there and they don’t go, what’s the point of it?
“If you offer the same entertainment downtown, the people come.”
Willis, who offered heartfelt thanks to those in attendance prior to tipoff, admitted he has taken a virtual tour of the new facility slated to open this spring at St. Clair College, and while the league isn’t keen on teams playing on a college campus, Riley wouldn’t rule out the possibility.
“Ideally it’s not what we want, but we want to play where the fans will come,” Riley said. “Sometimes an intimate setting with enthusiastic fans is the best place you can play.”
Certainly, scheduling more games at Caesars Windsor would seem to be automatic for the future.
“I think it would be a great place to play, but right now, I think it was a one-off, an experiment and a successful one,” Riley said.
“I think having a few games a year here would be great. It would be good for the casino, but it would be great for the team and for the downtown core.”
Maybe, just maybe, some of those getting their first look at the Express and the NBL of Canada game will be impressed enough to give the team a second chance when they return to their regular home at the WFCU Centre.
Or perhaps it could be time for the Express to seriously consider relocation to the city’s core.
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