Amongst a variety of acronyms such as ABA, PBA, PTS and TBL, there is one that is most appropriate for the fledgling Lilac City Legends professional basketball team.
Thanks to COVID-19 and getting legs underneath them in the aftermath, that acronym for LCL is TBD – To Be Decided.
The Legends are the brainchild of Mike Bethely, a longtime resident of the region who was a program assistant for Eastern Washington University more than 20 years ago. A Spokane businessman now with B&B Pro Video in Spokane, in 2019 he asked himself the question many basketball fans in Spokane – AKA Hooptown USA – have asked as well.
“I was thinking, Spokane doesn’t have a professional basketball team. Why?” he said. “For lack of a better term, Spokane is a mecca of basketball. I love the game, entertaining people and serving the community, so I thought it would be pretty cool to have a team that could do all things. We wanted a platform for an organization that could contribute back to the community and be accessible for the community.”
Bethely made his vision become a reality in February 2020 when the Lilac City Legends were formed. With a sound, sustainable vision to play regionally, the organization has survived the pandemic and is plotting its course for competition for the future.
But it hasn’t been easy finding a landing spot for the Legends. They had hoped to compete this summer in the Pro Tournament Series (PTS), which was to consist of teams from Washington competing in a series of tournaments.
But that fell through, and Bethely said the team is proceeding with plans to join The Basketball League (TBL) as that national association continues to grow its West region. He said their league season is expected to run March through June.
“I don’t want to say we’re starting from scratch, but we are starting over,” he said of the change of plans.
“I think it’s a good thing, but it’s also a tough thing.”
The squad, whose head coach is longtime West Coast college assistant Leroy Washington, had an intrasquad scrimmage on May 22. An exhibition game is scheduled in Olympia on Saturday, and Bethely hopes his team can host a game in September against fellow TBL member the Vancouver Volcanoes. The Volcanoes are one of 44 teams nationally in the league, and one of six in the West Region.
“Being a part of a league will help us get a following and support we need,” he said. “It gives us something consistently to play for.”
Bethely’s original plan in 2020 for the Legends was to join the rebooted American Basketball Association (ABA), which is not your father’s – or your grandfather’s – ABA, with roots that date back to the 1960s.
The new ABA had a national presence, with eight regions and nearly 60 teams in the Pacific Region alone. Included were multiple teams in Seattle, plus Everett, in a North Region.
But everybody knows what happened in March 2020.
“The ABA was rebooted back in 1999,” Bethely said. “We had the Spokane market, but never played a game because of COVID. Then the teams available in this region to play dwindled, so costwise it didn’t make sense to play when we didn’t have any regional games to play.”
The Legends pivoted and joined the Pro Basketball Association (PBA) and played 11 games last summer and fall.
The Legends were 6-4 in the Northwest Division of the league, losing in the first round of the playoffs. Home games were played at the HUB sports facility in Liberty Lake. The first game had no fans.
“We were trying to give the community something to do,” Bethely said.
“We had to rely on word of mouth, so it was mostly family and friends coming. But it was a good season nonetheless.”
The early stages of the Lilac’s existence saw them use three coaches, including Washington, a former Montana player and assistant coach. Now retired and living in the area, Washington took over the team midway through the inaugural year in 2021.
“We’re in a city that bleeds basketball,” Washington said before one of the team’s practices in May. “I felt fortunate to be in this area.”
Bethely said that between active players, “select” reserves and developmental players, they strive to have a roster of about 20, with about 90% either coming from the Spokane area or having played in college here.
Among the team’s players are Ferris High School graduate and former Columbia Basin Community College/Eastern Washington University player Morgan Hyslop.
Other local products include Dominique McClendon ( Havermale HS, Everett CC) and Luke Evans (North Central HS, CC Spokane).
“It’s been a fun experience to be able to stay local, and be a part of something new and bigger here,” said Evans, who graduated from high school in 2010 and is a carpenter in Spokane. “For people like me who don’t exactly have a route (to play professionally), it’s nice.”
Evans and many of his teammates played recently in Hoopfest in Spokane. Three players on the team’s roster – Ross Nakamura, Ahbrae Harvey and Aaron Antoine – played on NW Warriors Elite, which finished second in its elite division bracket. In the title game, they lost to Be Ballin For Life, which included McClendon.
Having learned a lot in his first foray into professional sports, Bethely’s emphasis is to continue to grow the Lilac City Legends and become sustainable. He wants to avoid the pratfalls and challenges that jumping in too fast too soon sometimes create for aspiring professional teams.
“That’s part of the reason we are taking a step back from some of the leagues,” he said. “We want to be prepared to play this game, present this product, create a brand and take on this opportunity. It’s definitely a challenge.”
Evans remembers playing city league basketball with Bethely, including the “Love League” in 2015. That league featured stats, videos and other bells and whistles colleges and the pros have.
“He got us together in different places for us to play some 5-on-5, and eventually he started talking about putting this together,” Evans said of the origins of LCL. “If he was serious, we were serious, too. Whether it be an outlet to something else, or build something here for kids to hop on. It’s an extra outlet for basketball after college.”
Bethely said he’s glad that Washington reached out to him about being a part of coaching the team. Washington was a point guard at Montana in the mid-1980s, playing alongside top players and coaches Larry Krystkowiak and Wayne Tinkle.
Washington began a career of 20-plus years as a collegiate assistant, including a pair of stops at his alma mater and jobs at Idaho and Wyoming. He originally retired in Seattle, but settled back in Spokane to be closer to his two sons, Mychael and Jayson, who live in the Moscow/Pullman area.
Now 58, Washington is the director of camps for the Spokane Eastside Reunion Association (SERA). He eventually became associated with Bethely.
“Everything we do here we want to set good examples,” Washington said. “I want a class organization – we don’t want the inmates running the asylum. When people see the Legends, I want them to associate us with basketball, community and friendliness. We want to be visible in a positive way.”
He’s also had to learn the differences in coaching college players versus grown men with jobs and families.
He’s had to exhibit patience of another kind in still not knowing what the team’s future competitive playing schedule will look like.
“That’s been the hardest part, and getting guys to practice regularly,” he said. “Our players have families and kids, so you have to have some patience. They have jobs and they are tired – I’m understanding of that.”
March is a long way off to begin competition for real, but in the meantime Bethely will do his best to keep the team in the minds of basketball fans and people in the Spokane area.
“Our mission is to honor, encourage and inspire legends in the community,” he said. “We want to tap into people and see who they are and how they live their best lives and selves. We want to inspire them in any way, form and fashion to bring joy and inspirations to their lives. That’s one of the foundations to the organization and what is behind the name legends.”
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