ST. LOUIS — The Midwest Professional Basketball Association announced Monday that Pontiac will have an MPBA team beginning in January.
The team will be called the Pontiac 66ers because of the city's connection to Route 66. The 66ers will play at Pontiac High School and will be a joint venture between the MPBA and a group of local investors.
“There were many factors contributing to the decision to add Pontiac to our league,” said C. Edward “Ed” Schumer, Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of the MPBA.
"The support of the Pontiac superintendent and athletic director, the warm welcome and sincere interest of the mayor and civic leaders, the immediate interest of many key business leaders and the enthusiasm of the leadership of the Illinois Basketball Museum made this a very easy decision."
The Pontiac team would be in close proximity to the Bloomington Flex, which played in the MPBA last season.
The Basketball Museum of Illinois is scheduled to open in 2016 in Pontiac's Vermillion Plaza. The Pontiac High School gym is home to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, which at 84 years and counting is the oldest holiday tournament in the nation.
Pontiac mayor Bob Russell said the team "fits in with everything else that's going on here."
"We (the city) are not involved financially at all, but we will support it and we like the idea," Russell said. "One thing we know is this will draw people from the Chicago area because a lot of players come from that area, and we have Amtrak coming here already.
"With the reputation of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, a whole lot of people know about Pontiac and the quality of basketball. Derrick Rose came through here and Jabari Parker came through here (as Chicago Simeon High School players). Because of that, I think it will draw a lot of interest."
Russell said the city plans to offer travel packages that would include admission to the city's museums, lodging and tickets to a 66ers game.
"It's one more reason to come here and that's a good thing," Russell said.
Pontiac High School athletic director Gary Brunner said providing a site for the the team is "a good opportunity to help the museum out and help the high school out."
"It’s kind of a win-win for everybody around here," Brunner said. "They needed a place to play and we have that. I think the tie-in with the history of what we have with the holiday tournament and with the museum coming in, it makes it all positive for us.”
The search for a head coach, general manager and other front office positions is underway. The team will announce those details, including its logo, at a news conference to be scheduled in the upcoming weeks. The MPBA’s second season begins in January.
Flex owner and president Scott Henderson said his team needs to "figure some things out" regarding the upcoming season, but that "the intention is to play" in the MPBA.
"Obviously Pontiac would be a really good rivalry," Henderson said. "Sometimes those small markets do a great job of supporting. Basketball is important to Pontiac. I think that part of it will be great.
"Anytime you're looking at rivalries you want to be as close as you can so fans can take advantage of it. In some respects we would be competing for the same players, so that would increase the rivalry. I wish them luck. One of our best rivalries from the beginning was Sauk Valley and that Sterling market is similar to Pontiac."