Averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds in Grade Nine and being one of the tallest kids on the Richmond Hill High School team offered Steven Conville a glimmer of hope that perhaps he could play in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
When the scoring and rebounding averages plummeted to four points and two rebounds two years later and he realized he was the team’s shortest player, reality took over and Conville concentrated on playing the saxophone at Bayview Secondary School where he completed Grade 12.
However, the former band leader remained a big basketball fan, becoming a Toronto Raptors season ticket holder 12 years ago.
It was at courtside at the Air Canada centre that he met new National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC) commissioner Andre Levingston nearly eight years ago and the two basketball aficionados remained in contact.
In 2007, Levingston – who moved to Toronto in 1999 and was involved in several business ventures including a high-end car detailing outfit with former Raptors forward Morris Peterson – became the president and chief executive officer of the Halifax Rainmen which was Atlantic Canada’s only professional sports franchise at the time.
When Levingston was considering forming a new league in Canada after his Rainmen and other teams severed ties with the Premier Basketball League last year over concerns about the league’s officiating, he called Conville.
“He asked if I would be interested in owning a team because he knew I loved the sport,” said 38-year-old Conville who is vice-president and portfolio manager with Macquarie Private Wealth. “I jumped at the opportunity because I am a big fan of the game.”
When a proposal to take a team to Kingston’s K-Rock Centre fell through in the summer after the city felt there was insufficient time to consider the opportunity for this season, Conville turned his attention to Moncton which welcomed him with open arms as the owner of the city’s new basketball franchise.
The married father of three said Moncton appealed to him because it’s among the fastest growing urban regions east of Toronto, it’s a close knit and small grassroots community and there’s considerable interest in basketball.
“Participation in the sport is among the highest in North America in terms of the population,” said Conville who has spent the last 19 years in the financial services industry. “Even though I had never been to Moncton prior to getting involved as the owner, I visited Halifax and Prince Edward Island on business and was able to understand the East Coast philosophy. So when I did my research on Moncton, I found out how much they loved basketball out there.”
Though the city’s linguistic majority is English, there is an active French-speaking Acadian minority population. Nine years ago, Moncton became Canada’s first officially bilingual city.
Conville – identified as gifted in the arts and sciences in Grade Three – admits his French is brutal, but he made up for that deficiency by hiring a coach who is fluent in the language.
Norris “Bo” Bell, who runs a successful academy in his Atlanta hometown, played nine seasons in France during a 13-year professional career in Europe.
“The community is very happy that I took that kind of consideration with my franchise,” said Conville, who relinquished his Raptors season ticket at the end of the 2010-11 season because he was unhappy with the team’s direction. “There is a grassroots component to what we are doing and I want my coach to be out in the community working with young people and families. When I saw how patient Norris was and combined that with his ability to speak French, I knew he was my guy.
“He’s in charge and as long as he’s doing the best he can in the best interest of the team, I am fine. I promise I will not interfere because I am not a micro manager. The only time I will be hands-on is when I am greeting fans and fielding compliments and criticism. I will be cheering and dancing with the fans, but when it comes to coaching and operation of the team, Norris in the man.”
Asked about his expectations for the Moncton Miracles, Conville’s only wish is that the team play hard every game.
“I don’t know if we will win a game, but if the players reflect their owner’s personality, we are going to fight to the last minute and be competitive in every game,” promises the Urban Financial Services Coalition advisory board member and volunteer with the SaMarc Dream and Achieve Foundation which was started by his friend and former Raptors coach Sam Mitchell and American entrepreneur Marc Upshaw. “There is no quit in me and there will no quit with my team. I promise that.”
Conville’s business acumen and humility are rooted in his upbringing by parents Dr. Vincent Conville – a former Toronto District School Board educator – and his wife Fay who are active members of the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) and scholarship donors, and his interaction with community elders including the late Dr. John Brooks.
He’s among several young leaders – others include Faithe Holder who is one of the few Black Bay Street law partners; Aon Canada Inc. chief counsel Terrie-Lynne Devonish who was two years ago recognized as one of Canada’s Top-40 Under-40 lawyers and Dr. Gary Miller who was the first Black to enter the University of Toronto’s ophthalmology residency program – who have benefitted from Dr. Brooks’ scholarships and wisdom.
“Dr. Brooks provided me with the chance to know that I could be successful,” said Conville who has a Bachelor of Arts degree from York University, an MBA in Finance from Wilfrid Laurier University and a post-graduate diploma in Investment Management from Concordia University. “The money wasn’t big and the scholarships and bursaries were not handed out in ritzy hotels, but those awards let me know that I could do anything that I put my mind to and that was the greatest gift John and his foundation presented to me. As for my parents, they are my rock. They still advise, guide and mentor me and they are my biggest fans. I love them dearly.”
The new seven-team Canadian league has an annual operating budget of close to $750,000 with a $150,000 player salary cap.
Though the money is nowhere close to the millions circulated in the NBA, Conville – who has adopted a school in Montego Bay through the Program for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE) – believes the league has a chance to grow and flourish.
“There is no shortage of young men in the world who have a dream of playing basketball at the highest level,” he said. “Our wages are not high, but if the players compete hard for their ownerships and fans, they will make more money. It is what it is right now, but I think the league definitely has a chance to be successful.”
The pre-season starts on October 14 and the regular season begins on October 29.
Conville’s Moncton Miracles visit the Greater Toronto Area on November 3 for the Oshawa Power home opener at General Motors Centre. The East Coast team returns to the Durham region on December 29 and February 2, 2012.