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04-15-12-WK Wizards 6

WILL KINCAID/Tribune This unidentified Wizards fan used his giant hand to hold out hope for the team during Sunday’s game.

“Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart ...”

“Cecilia” is a Simon and Garfunkel song that, on the surface, is about an unfaithful companion. Paul Simon has implied it actually is about the fickle nature of musical inspiration.

Either way, it’s a pretty weird choice for a victory song. Yet for reasons nobody seems to remember, for the Dakota Wizards, that’s what it became.

When the Wizards began closing in on another win, fans at the Bismarck Civic Center would begin doing the alligator clap in anticipation of hearing it. The celebration became one of the Wizards’ longest-standing traditions.

The music fit the mood, even if the lyrics didn’t. But with the relocation of the franchise to California looming, pending approval by the Santa Cruz city council and the D-League, that opening line seems apt.

The Wizards had their season-ending banquet last week, and it was part celebration, part wake.

Former owners Wes Norton and Steve McCormick both spoke, and each expressed optimism that even though the Wizards appear to be moving, the D-League could come back to Bismarck.

“We’ve got a good venue, we’ve got good fans and they support the team very well,” Norton told the crowd. “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if down the road — I won’t put a timeline on it — but some NBA team will locate a team here in Bismarck.”

Anything is possible, but don’t bet on it.

The D-League is moving toward having each of its teams affiliated with one NBA team. That can be either direct ownership, like when the Golden State Warriors bought the Wizards last summer. Or it can be a “hybrid” affiliation, in which the NBA team controls the basketball operations with local ownership.

Either way, it’s hard to see how a team in Bismarck fits that model.

McCormick couldn’t find a local buyer willing to pay the price for the Wizards, a team with a built-in fan base and the most on-court success of any minor-league team. Why would anybody suddenly come forward to start a club from scratch?

And any NBA team looking for a team to develop players is likely to come to the same conclusion as the Warriors — that it can be done more efficiently closer to home. The Minnesota Timberwolves are the only NBA team “close” to Bismarck. They already have a strong relationship with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, which eventually could lead to a hybrid situation.

Former Wizards coach Duane Ticknor is plugged in to the world of minor league basketball, and he doesn’t see the D-League returning here.

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“If anyone’s a smart businessman, this is a great community for it,” Ticknor said. “But I just don’t think it can work unless you have local people involved. Times are changing. The

D-League is changing with the hybrid organizations. Unfortunately places like Bismarck are not close to major cities or NBA teams. That’s the tough part of it.

“Probably not a D-League team, but maybe some other minor league team could come,” he added.

With attendance at Wizards’ games already declining, joining a cut-rate league doesn’t seem to be a viable alternative.

It also doesn’t help that Bismarck is much smaller than the typical D-League city. Not counting Los Angeles, the average population of the 14 other D-League cities is nearly 230,000, more than triple the size of Bismarck.

It was kind of a fluke the Wizards made it into the D-League in the first place. They began as part of the old International Basketball Association. With that league on its last legs and the CBA desperately seeking teams, the Wizards were given a chance to move up.

The CBA thought so little of its new members that the old IBA clubs were actually designated as “lower-tier” teams, with smaller budgets and shorter schedules.

But the Wizards were well-run on and off the court, winning the CBA championship their first season. When the balance of power began shifting from the CBA to the D-League, a jump in leagues benefited both parties, but things have changed.

Through a league spokesman, D-League president Dan Reed declined to comment on the Wizards’ situation until the process is further along.

For what it’s worth, Kirk Lacob — the Warriors’ director of basketball operations — endorsed the idea of bringing another team to Bismarck even as he was in the process of moving the Wizards out.

“It’s up to the D-League. It’s up to somebody buying the team, convincing the D-League that they can come back,” he said. “Would I advocate for it? I would, personally.

“... If someone came forth with a proposal and said I’d like to bring to the D-League, and Dan Reed called me and he said, ‘What do you think about it?’ I’d say, ‘Full bore ahead.’”

In  the song “Cecilia” the protagonist wins back the object of his affections. It’s hard to see how Bismarck would be able to the same with the D-League.

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

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