Honey Badgers leave Hamilton for Brampton after being forced out of FirstOntario Centre, CEBL says

The Honey Badgers are leaving Hamilton, permanently, the Canadian Elite Basketball League says, for Brampton, Ont., after being forced out of First Ontario Centre for the 2024 and 2025 seasons.

The team will be now known as the Brampton Honey Badgers

Hamilton Honey Badgers players and team members celebrate with the Championship trophy after defeating the Scarborough Shooting Stars 90-88 in the CEBL championship final at TD Place in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Honey Badgers are leaving Hamilton permanently, the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) says, after being forced out of First Ontario Centre for the 2024 and 2025 seasons.

The Honey Badgers, CEBL champions, will defend their title in Brampton, Ont., the new home for the team starting the 2023 season.

The team announced, in a press release on Monday, that "due to the closure of Hamilton's FirstOntario Centre during the 2024 and 2025 CEBL seasons while arena renovations occur, the Honey Badgers are being permanently relocated to Brampton in time to begin play for the 2023 season."

...then boom, Nov. 11 we get this letter and it's been zero communication, none. There's far more frustration behind the scenes than I'd care to express publicly.- Honey Badgers President John Lashway

The team, along with the Ontario Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs and the Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League said they were informed earlier this month that FirstOntario Centre would shut down for much of the next two seasons.

Jasper Kujavsky, a partner with the Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG) — the group managing the renovations — said earlier this month they "anticipate an approximately 20-month construction period beginning in late summer/early fall of 2023."

Mike Morreale, a former Hamilton Ticat, is the commissioner of the CEBL. He said "We were recently informed that renovations to Hamilton's FirstOntario Centre will displace the Honey Badgers for the 2024 and 2025 seasons. Rather than playing elsewhere on a temporary basis during that time and relaunching the team again in 2026, the City of Brampton made it an easy decision for us to establish a permanent new home in one of the best basketball markets in Canada. The opportunity to play in a basketball hotbed and near Mississauga, Toronto, and our Scarborough franchise is a welcomed solution that we're very excited about."

Honey Badgers President John Lashway told the CBC "First of all, a huge thank you to Hamilton... The fans were great and the sponsors were terrific. We doubled our sponsorships reported last year. It's unfortunate that the situation we're in but it's understandable."

Steel Town Athletic Club says impact on kids will be 'huge'

Lashway said "The arena does need renovation in a big way. It's the way it goes. It's not necessarily the way it had to be.

We liked the Hamilton market. We had growing success there despite the pandemic. It's generally been a pretty positive experience there, except for the arena situation which has been hanging over our heads for so long."

Lashway said the team was "shocked' by the decision from HUPEG. He said there were discussions about still being able to play in Hamilton during the renovations "then boom, Nov. 11 we get this letter and it's been zero communication, none. There's far more frustration behind the scenes than I'd care to express publicly."

Vincent Kuber, who runs the Steel Town Athletic Club (STAC), says "I've been upset about this all morning."

STAC runs an athletic development program for BIPOC youth from 14 to 18 years old that includes basketball. Kuber says that in the "summer we had the Honey Badgers involved. They brought a player over. The kids loved it... I'm doing my part to build role models. I'm planning for the summer programming and the Honey Badgers were penciled in as a pretty solid component for this, and now I'm just 'what the heck?'"

Kuber says "what about the Bulldogs? What about the Rock? This is a huge impact on the sports community in Hamilton. How are we supposed to build a reputation, a sustainability for teams to want to stay and exist and be proud? I'd say we took five to 10 years steps backward. This is a huge impact. These kids need these role models."

HUPEG said in a statement Monday that they wish the Honey Badgers well on their move and they appreciate commissioner Mike Morreale's comment about a possible return of a CEBL expansion franchise to the market.

HUPEG said, "Although we anticipated that a temporary relocation would be happening, we wish them well and thank them for their belief in Hamilton."

With files from Michael To