The NBA in Pittsburgh? Two Fox Chapel kids take a shot
March 14, 2016 12:00 AM
Jimmy Hanna, 11 and his brother Freddy,10, of Fox Chapel, are trying to get an NBA franchise to move to Pittsburgh. They have raised $2,620 on GoFundMe, which they used to rent two billboards, like this one on Washington Boulevard.
Jimmy Hanna, left, 11, and his brother Freddy,10, of Fox Chapel, pose in front of the billboard they rented on Washington Boulevard to promote their cause: bringing an NBA team to Pittsburgh.
By Elizabeth Bloom / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Could the Pittsburgh Ketchup Packets become the city’s next professional sports team?
While the team’s name is up for debate, two kids with big ambitions think there’s no doubt Pittsburgh should be the next home of a National Basketball Association franchise.
The Fox Chapel brothers, Jimmy, 11, and Freddy Hanna, 10, have rented billboards on two major Pittsburgh thoroughfares to promote their cause.
Their grassroots effortto bring an NBA team to Pittsburgh began on a seven-hour drive home from New Jersey during Christmas break. The boys’ family was listening to a painful Steelers loss to the Ravens that, at the time, seemed to sink the team’s playoff chances.
Freddy and Jimmy, fourth- and fifth-graders at O’Hara Elementary School whose family has ties to the Howard Hanna real estate firm, lamented the notion of watching only Penguins hockey during the winter.
“I don’t feel like if we want to see a basketball game, we have to drive to Cleveland,” Jimmy later explained.
“All the way out there. It’s hard,” Freddy said, his voice fading.
So on that car ride home, the boys decided to deal with the problem.
“We thought, ‘Well, what if we get one here?’ ‘Well, that’s going to be kind of hard.’ So we just were like, ‘How about we try?’ ” Jimmy said.
In the next few weeks, they had launched a fundraising page on the website GoFundMe, posted videos and raised $2,620. They rented two billboards on Bigelow and Washington boulevards, which feature bobble heads of the kids over cartoon basketball jerseys. The rentals expire today unless nobody else reserved the space, their mother, Dana Hanna, said.
With Ms. Hanna’s help, they launched a Facebook page and started reaching out to anybody they thought could help — even leaving a voicemail in the office of NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
The brothers, basketball players themselves, have about $1,000 left over and hope to use it to wine and dine Mr. Silver in Pittsburgh, minus the wine. So where would they take him?
“Burgatory,” Jimmy said. And maybe Donato’s for some pizza.
“You’ve got to show him more than that,” Ms. Hanna said. “Are you going to show him more than Fox Chapel?”
OK, they’ll take him to a restaurant Downtown, too.
So far, Mr. Silver hasn’t arranged a business trip to Pittsburgh, but he did post on the movement’s Facebook page: “I wanted to thank you for your incredible commitment to the league and your city,” he wrote. “Between your Facebook page and your GoFundMe page — not to mention the billboards! — you’re doing a fantastic job. While we have no current plans to expand or relocate an existing team, Pittsburgh is a fantastic city.”
Mark Cuban, a Mt. Lebanon native and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, had some advice for the young entrepreneurs.
“Save their money. A lot of it,” Mr. Cuban said in an email. “They would have to look at how much NBA teams have been selling for and try to raise that much money.”
Three teams have been purchased in the past two years, with price tags ranging from $550 million to $2 billion, slightly more than the $2,620 the Hannas have raised.
“The end result to me is less important than the whole process,” Ms. Hanna said. “All of this happened within eight weeks, really pretty quick. So whether they’re 10 and 11 or 30 and 31, I think that they can be proud that they started a big conversation.”
“It’s great to see that type of initiative and effort at that age,” said Len Komoroski, the CEO of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena, who grew up in Shaler. “And you never know, if you keep following your passion, good things happen.”
The kids haven’t settled on a team name yet, although Jimmy prefers the Ketchup Packets, and a cousin suggested the River Rats.
Pittsburgh has a checkered basketball history. Despite some success — the Pittsburgh Pipers won the American Basketball Association championship in 1968 — most local teams survived just a season or two.
Historically, the problem has always been with drumming up support at the gate, said Anne Madarasz, co-director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center. Only 13 cities have teams in the four major leagues, and the smallest, Denver, is a significantly larger media market than Pittsburgh.
“I would be surprised and pleased to see a team succeed here, but I think it’s a real uphill battle,” Ms. Madarasz said. “You’re going up against, in a small metropolitan area, three competitors for the sports dollar that are very successful at what they do.”
Mr. Komoroski, a graduate of Duquesne University, deferred questions about Pittsburgh’s NBA readiness to the league, but he said, “I would never question the passion or the intensity of the fans in the Pittsburgh area,” noting the Cavaliers draw a lot of fans from Western Pennsylvania.
In 2010, Pittsburgh was tossed about as a possible new home for the Detroit Pistons. At the time, Mr. Cuban expressed skepticism that an NBA team could compete with the Penguins. Last week, he struck a more optimistic tone.
“I would love to see Pittsburgh have a team, and yes, I think they could support it,” said Mr. Cuban, an investor on the TV show “Shark Tank.”
But in professional sports, money talks: If the brothers pitched the Pittsburgh Ketchup Packets to the “sharks,” would Mr. Cuban invest in them?
“I can’t invest in a second team,” he said. “But I would put in a good word.”
Elizabeth Bloom: email@example.com or 412-263-1750 or Twitter: @BloomPG.
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