Canterbury Rams may be back in the game

GEOFF LONGLEY
Last updated 05:00 18/07/2012

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Having a Canterbury Rams team back in the national basketball league would be a fitting tribute to the late franchise owner Dr John Watson, believes a close family friend.

Toby Nicholls said yesterday that Watson's widow, Leslie, was receptive to the Rams franchise being revived to help boost earthquake-damaged Christchurch, which has not fielded a team in the NBL for the past two seasons.

Watson took over the Rams organisation in 2000 from Canterbury Basketball but died suddenly in May, aged 45, of a brain aneurism in the United States where the family had returned to live in 2008.

Watson oversaw the Rams until then but then handed over the running of the side to Canterbury Basketball, who again struck financial trouble and withdrew from a partnership ahead of the 2009 season.

The Christchurch Cougars, run by the husband-and-wife combination of Amy and Andrew Gardiner, filled the gap at short notice for 2009 and 2010 but withdrew the team for the past two seasons when they felt unable to sustain the team in the league financially after the earthquakes.

Amy Gardiner said yesterday the Cougars were not in a position to make any statement in regards to the team's return.

"If there is another organisation with the means, motivation and financial backing to put an NBL team on the court, then we will support them 100 per cent," she said.

New licences are being issued later this year for next season and Nicholls believed it would be appropriate if the Rams could be restored to the NBL to help the game in the region which has been without a flagship team.

Watson's time running the Rams did not meet with everyone's approval in the province but Nicholls, who has worked for the Watsons, said that above all else Watson was a passionate backer of basketball.

"He took the team on when it was in financial trouble and with his marketing skills introduced a family first theme and brought record crowds to the Westpac Arena."

Nicholls said he had been in regular contact with Leslie Watson and she still had a strong connection with Christchurch where all their four children were born during their stay from the mid-1990s.

"I believe she thinks it would be nice if John's vision and passion for the game was carried on here."

Entry to the league does not come cheap and could cost around $500,000 annually.

Former Rams forward Kenny Perkins has expressed some interest in starting up a side, but that is dependent on getting the support of a group of backers, including his NBA star son Kendrick.

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Perkins intends travelling to the United States after the club season ends in September to sound out his son about the possibility of investing in a franchise in Canterbury.

"Whether that would be in time for next season, I doubt. But he knows about the earthquakes here and how tough a time basketball has had losing two of our main gyms.

"Whether we could sort out some sort of exchange programme between the clubs he has been connected with (Boston Celtics and Oklahoma Thunder) I don't know. They could send players out here who are maybe rehabbing and we could perhaps get some of our best young talent over there on scholarship."

Perkins said whether the team could be called the Rams was another matter. "If we got something under way it would be great to have it under the Rams banner for John did do a lot for the game here. But whether Lesley would want to be associated with how the team is set up is a matter for her."

- Canterbury

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