The Dakota Wizards – finally, officially – are no more.
After months of delay, the D-League announced on Wednesday that after a 17-year run in Bismarck, the Wizards are relocating to Santa Cruz, Calif. The team will be renamed the Santa Cruz Warriors.
“The Dakota Wizards were a successful team in our league. They started off with a championship in their first year,” D-League president Dan Reed said. “I want to reiterate that it’s always hard to leave a market where a team has been successful. At the same time, we’re excited about the future of the NBA D-League and of the Santa Cruz Warriors.”
The Golden State Warriors, who bought the Wizards in the summer of 2011, announced their intention to move the team in April, just before the end of the regular season. The deal between the Wizards and the city of Santa Cruz required several votes before it was given the green light in early September. Construction on the team’s new arena began in the middle of last month.
“It’s definitely nice to have final approval,” said Kirk Lacob, assistant general manager of the Golden State Warriors and general manager of the Santa Cruz Warriors. “It’s been awhile to go through, but we had to check off every box we needed to. Obviously the league was confident in our ability to get there, or they wouldn’t have let us go as far as they did.”
The Wizards began operations in 1995 as members of the now-defunct International Basketball Association. After winning the IBA title in 2001, the Wizards jumped ship to the Continental Basketball Association, historically the primary minor league for the NBA.
The Wizards continued their success in the CBA, winning championships in 2002 and 2004.
With the NBA using its resources to back the D-League, the Wizards again shifted leagues, leaving the CBA for the 2006-07 season. The Wizards won their fourth championship that year and had been members of the D-League ever since.
The Warriors purchased the Wizards from Steve McCormick and Dawn Kopseng last summer. At the time of the sale, the Warriors said they would explore the possibility of moving the team after the 2011-12 season.
Kopseng expressed disappointment that the Wizards will not remain in Bismarck.
“It’s hard knowing that we didn’t accomplish what we were hoping to accomplish,” she said.
The Warriors have sparked interest in Santa Cruz. The team has already sold nearly 700 season tickets for the 2012-13 campaign, even though they weren’t officially located in California until Wednesday.
“Considering that we didn’t have a Web site where people could by them and haven’t run a single ad, that’s pretty good,” Lacob said.
As he said in April, Lacob reiterated that the franchise shift was because of geography.
“Our time in Bismarck was invaluable,” he said. “There was a reason we bought the Dakota Wizards, because if we weren’t able to move the team closer or if we decided that was not the best strategy, Bismarck was somewhere we were comfortable being.
“Everybody was really welcoming, even though it was an awkward situation, because everybody knew we were looking around,” Lacob said. “It wasn’t a secret. … Bismarck would be a good place to return. They deserve a minor-league team, whether it’s in basketball or some other sport.”
But the Wizards’ relocation is part of a trend in the D-League toward one-to-one relationships between an NBA team and a nearby minor-league affiliate. Reed was noncommittal about the D-League ever returning to Bismarck.
“We have no plans for expansion right now, but never say never,” Reed said. “… A lot of NBA teams have wanted to have an affiliate close by, but if you look at baseball or hockey, they aren’t necessarily that close geographically.”
Reach sports editor Lou Babiarz at 250-8243 or Lou.Babiarz@bismarcktribune.com.
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