D-League: Wizards move is possible

WILL KINCAID/Tribune Maurice Baker, right, has been a favorite among Dakota fans. There have been talks that the Wizards won't be in Bismarck next season.

From the day they bought the Dakota Wizards last summer, the Golden State Warriors made no secret of the fact that relocating the team from Bismarck was a possibility.

Now that the Wizards are on the verge of a move to Santa Cruz, Calif., in time for the start of the 2012-13 season, Warriors general manager Larry Riley insists taking the team from Bismarck was not a foregone conclusion at the time.

“I wouldn’t say that the team was totally doomed when we bought it, but we had to have an eye on all the factors,” Riley said.

The proposal must be approved by the Santa Cruz City Council and the relocation by the D-League, but the Warriors are confident that will happen.

Started up in 1995, the Wizards are the second-oldest minor-league basketball team still in business, behind only their archrival, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. The Wizards won four championships, one in the International Basketball Association (2001), two in the Continental Basketball Association (2002 and 2004), and one in the D-League (2007).

Dave Joerger, who led the Wizards to four titles in five seasons in Bismarck, expressed disappointment about the potential move.

“Thats certainly unfortunate,” said Joerger, now an assistant with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. “There are a lot of people who care very much about the Wizards, not just the people who work for the team, but the season-ticket holders, the sponsors, the fans. ... There are passionate fans in every city, but there were a high number of passionate people in Bismarck.”

Former co-owner Dawn Kopseng, who now serves as the Wizards’ chief operating officer, knows the team’s history as well as anybody. Although Kopseng fought to keep the team here, the Warriors made the decision to move. Kopseng acknowledged that uncertainty about the team’s future has hurt attendance this year.

“People have been supporters for 17 years,” she said. “It’s been a very important factor in their life, for their families. I think some people took it personally. (That’s) easy to do, but it’s not a personal decision.”

When the Warriors evaluated their options, tradition was no match for geography.

Lacob said the Warriors appreciate the support Bismarck has given the Wizards over the years.

“When we bought (the Wizards), we said there’s a reason we bought this team and not another team,” he said. “Because if we were going to stay here long-term, we would have been fine with that.

“We would have no problems at all, because the community has been strong, just as it has been for the last 17 years, he added. “They continued to show their support this year and help our players. There’s no doubt that (players) had a positive experience when they were here.”

But Lacob also knows what the reaction to the news of the move is going to be.

“I understand if they’re angry. Absolutley I would understand,” he said. “I understood the side that at the beginning of the season when we bought the team if they were angry. I can understand that.

“... Obviously I think we’ve built a pretty good team this season,” he added. “I really really hope that if this move does go through that we can at least send the team out with a bang.”

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Reach sports editor Lou Babiarz at 250-8243 or Lou.Babiarz@bismarcktribune.com.