HALIFAX - A Halifax basketball team that was poised to play for a professional championship has ended its season with accusations and recriminations flying between players and the team's owner after its last game was forfeited.
Team owner Andre Levingston said it was an unfortunate end to what could have been a championship season for the Halifax Rainmen.
"I feel cheated, and I believe the good people of this city do too as well," Levingston told a news conference on Monday. "We had all the ingredients in place this season to bring home the championship and we were denied."
The team forfeited last Thursday's championship game to the Windsor Express, citing safety concerns following an altercation between the teams earlier in the day.
As a result, the league handed out $90,000 in fines, suspended 11 Rainmen players and permanently barred the coach and assistant coach from the league.
But Levingston said the team will be back on the court next season despite the fines and suspensions.
Andre Levingston said his team plays an important role in the city and continues to have support from fans and the community.
"The Rainmen will be back to compete in the NBL next season and we have a ton of work to do," he said.
It was the first time Levingston has addressed what happened in Windsor, Ont. His players spoke out Saturday, accusing Levingston of pressuring them to play.
Player Joey Haywood, who attended the news conference, said he did not feel safe and stands by his decision not to play the game.
"We've got families, and it wasn't a safe environment," said Haywood, who was suspended and fined $5,000. "If we did play ... it would have been a bloodbath."
Levingston took responsibility for the dispute between the teams, explaining that he took issue with a 1 p.m. shootaround practice time that was scheduled for the Rainmen on the day of the championship game. He had wanted an earlier practice so the players had more time to rest and prepare before the game.
Levingston said he then made the decision to show up uninvited at the arena at 9:30 a.m. and practice for an hour ahead of the 11 a.m. practice time given to the Express.
That's when a physical altercation broke out between the two teams, he said.
The National Basketball League of Canada is investigating the altercation. The league did not return a request for comment Monday.
Levingston said he wanted the Rainmen to play the championship game. Precautions were taken to deal with safety concerns, Levingston said, adding that he arranged for the teams to sit down together to work through their issues.
But the players and coaches adamantly refused to play, he said.
Haywood said he is refusing to pay his fine and will not play for the Rainmen in the future, should his suspension be lifted.
The Rainmen didn't get their final pay cheques of the season because they violated their contracts by not playing, severing their ties with the club and the league, said Levingston.
He said the fines imposed by the league require the final pay of the players and coaches to be forwarded to the league. The players must pay their fines before they can play anywhere else in the world under rules of the International Basketball Federation.
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