A familiar refrain from the perpetually-upbeat citizens of Erie is that we have nothing to do in the winter. The halcyon days of vibrant downtown festivals and endless activities on the north end of Peninsula Drive will not return until next summer. The immediate future holds dropping temperatures, skyrocketing credit card bills and Canadian buses causing massive gridlock all for the sake of the holiday season. Our only break seems to come in the form of binge watching from various streaming services while laying on the couch.
Sounds depressing? I know. I used to look at the last quarter of the year the same way. Fortunately, our area provides us with many excuses to get out of the house as the weather turns. From the loaded schedule at the Warner theater to the encroaching skiing season, Erie provides entertainment that is usually reserved for larger metropolitan areas.
That’s not always the direction I choose, however. There are only so many stage acts that the Warner can host. I broke my nose the only time I tried to ski. Despite my wife’s wishes, I have no intent of signing up for every single streaming service. Luckily, I can still enjoy our local winter sports.
I know many miss the Erie Civic Center of old, but the $47 Million renovation completed in 2013 provided us with a state-of-the-art facility to call our own. The Erie Otters have thrilled fans since 1996 and have sent a number of players to the NHL. Everyone loves the Otters. In a town known for frigid temperatures and record-breaking snowfall, hockey remains the undisputed king of winter sports in Erie. One only has to see the distinguished alumni or the championship banners to know that the Otters have left an indelible mark on the world of hockey. They’re celebrated, and they should be celebrated, but the other tenants of the Erie Insurance Arena are the ones I look forward to watching this season.
Founded in 2008, the NBA G-League’s Bayhawks are actually in their third variant since 2017. They came into existence as an affiliate of the Cleveland Cavaliers. This was during Lebron’s first tour of duty in Cleveland and his ubiquitous pump-up video was played often on the then Tullio Arena’s JumboTron. A friend was working for a local radio station and was able to get free Bayhawks tickets whenever he pleased. Initially coaxed into joining him for these games, I quickly became a massive fan. I had my favorite players. I knew their tendencies. I even enjoyed watching BubbaLuv dance with the Erie Bayhawks Dance Team.
The memorable names and faces seen at a Bayhawks games are worth the price of admission. As a San Antonio Spurs fan, I had the thrill of watching Danny Green run the floor at 8th and French before he kissed the Larry O’Brien Trophy in San Antonio. Remember Linsanity? The February that was so devoid of actual news that an Asian-American point guard putting up huge numbers for the New York Knicks was the #1 news story for weeks? That started in Erie. Jeremy Lin was a Bayhawk before he was a Knick. The Golden State Warriors have the Splash Brothers. The Erie Bayhawks had their less-talented siblings.
The former NBA stars that spent time in Erie in some capacity read like an NBA Jam roster. Allan Houston, Malik Rose, Ricky Davis, Calbert Cheaney, Michael Sweetney and Garrett Temple have all spent time with the Bayhawks. Last year, Shelden Williams was an assistant and I was finally able to try to decipher how his face worked in person.
Through the years, the Bayhawks change NBA affiliates numerous times with each relationship ending for the same reason; teams wanted their affiliates located closer to their parent club. The Cleveland Cavaliers were the closest affiliate until they purchased an expansion team in Canton that was closer. Similar situations happened with the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and the Orlando Magic. The Magic would actually purchase the Bayhawks and move them to Lakeland, Florida. A new version of the Bayhawks had an affiliation with the Atlanta Hawks until the Hawks purchased the team and moved them to College Park, Georgia.
Now, in their third form, the Bayhawks are the G-League affiliates of the New Orleans Pelicans. For those hoping that the Pelicans will provide the stability needed for our local basketball franchise, I regret to inform you that they are already set to move to Birmingham, Alabama in 2022.
With all of the uncertainty surrounding the team, some may struggle to support our Bayhawks. I can’t stop you from feeling that way. If you don’t want to see professional-level talent compete in an intimate-yet-swanky arena with affordable ticket prices, then I cant help you. I enjoy action-packed games in a fan-friendly atmosphere. I enjoy player accessibility for the kids. I appreciate that we have a group of people committed to keeping professional basketball in Erie.
Next Friday, the Bayhawks will have their 2019-20 home opener against the former Bayhawks as the College Park Skyhawks return to town for a 7PM tip off. Tickets are available online and at the box office.