Group seeks investors for Montreal NBA team

Michel Fortier, right, details his plans to bring an NBA franchise to Montreal as Kevin Gilmore, looks on at a news conference Wednesday, October 10, 2018 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

MONTREAL — A group of Quebec businesspeople led by former federal cabinet minister and senator Michael Fortier is continuing its full-court press to bring a National Basketball Association franchise to Montreal — even though the league has no current plans for expansion.

Fortier said Wednesday he has spoken to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver about Montreal’s basketball dream.

"Although the NBA and its commissioner have made it clear to us that they currently have no plans to expand the league, we have taken the decision to prepare for when expansion does take place, because we believe it will take place," he told a news conference.

The group has been meeting with potential Canadian and foreign investors to arrange financing. It announced Wednesday that Stephan Cretier, the CEO of the security firm GardaWorld, has agreed to contribute up to 10 per cent of the value of the new team.

Fortier said the group "has been casting a very wide net and has had conversations with people all over the globe." But so far Cretier’s commitment is the only firm one.

As it tries to attract investors for an NBA franchise, the group also has to deal with an effort to bring back baseball’s Montreal Expos.

Kevin Gilmore, who runs a sports consulting firm, said the group feels there’s room for both a new NBA franchise and a return of the Expos.

"I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, I think this marketplace can more than support … several teams," he said.

Fortier estimated the NBA franchise would cost between US$1.5 billion and US$2 billion, but no public funding would be required.

He said Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson is open to the idea of having an NBA team play at the Canadiens’ home, the Bell Centre.

The Montreal Board of Trade supports the NBA project and has been working with Fortier for the past year to attract investors. Michel Leblanc, head of the Board of Trade, said he believes a basketball franchise would have great potential in the city.

"As we move ahead, we will continue to support the initiative and remain involved," he said.

The last time the NBA expanded was in 2004, when the Charlotte Bobcats, who later became the Hornets, joined the league.

The Montreal news conference was held just hours before the Toronto Raptors were to play a pre-season game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Bell Centre.

The NBA currently has 30 teams, 15 in each of the Eastern and Western Conferences. If it decides to expand and wants to maintain a geographical balance, it would have to add a team in each conference.

Seattle, which lost the SuperSonics when they moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, has long been considered the favourite in the west. Louisville has been mentioned as a frontrunner for an eastern expansion team.

Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Anaheim, San Diego and Kansas City have also expressed interest in an NBA team.

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