Catch the buzz.
That’s the slogan of the new American Basketball Association’s Steel City Yellow Jackets. Pittsburgh has always had an odd relationship with professional basketball. We used to have the Condors, so named because the owners knew the franchise was doomed. Plus, pro hoops is our city’s 17th favorite sport. So it’s a tough road for the Yellow Jackets to go down.
The new ABA is a massive and confusing league made up of 97 teams in 12 divisions. It’s one of those leagues where franchises disappear overnight, and some games are cancelled because they don’t have enough money for the team bus. All you need to get your own franchise is a $20,000 entry fee. But coach Averill “Ace” Pippens hopes to stay here for awhile. He bought the team last year after a pretty successful inaugural season in which it compiled a 15-2 record. The season ended with half a second left on the clock as the stupid Philadelphia Spirit squashed the buzz with a one-point victory.
The Jackets play in the ABA’s south-central division along with the West Virginia Wildcats, the Columbus Buckeyes, the Bowling Green Bandits and the very non-specific Mid-South Echoes. This isn’t the ABA of the 1970s glory years, although they still have the iconic red-white-and-blue basketballs. However, this incarnation of the league doesn’t have a Dr. J, or a George Gervins, or a Connie Hawkins to showcase. It’s also unlikely to merge with the NBA anytime soon, but it is trying to establish itself. The league does have a handful of former NBA players, as well as some Division I and II college ballers. Former Pitt star Carl Krauser was a Yellow Jacket last season.
Coach Ace, as Pippens is known, is the toughest coach here, or anywhere for that matter. If you know of any other head coach who was shot six times and still has a bullet lodged in their body, let me know. He led Penn State-McKeesport to a college title in 2006, so he’s tough and knows what he’s doing. The Yellow Jackets are led by guard Tone Reddic, who is worth the price of admission alone. The team also has players from local colleges, including Lawrence Baker, a former Indiana University of Pennsylvania star; Slippery Rock’s Gerald Brooks; Point Park’s Alan Heter; and Matt McKenna from Penn State-Fayette.
I’m sure it’s obvious, but I’ll tell you anyway: The Yellow Jackets play their games at the Greentree Racquetball Club just off the Parkway West. That’s inside the Greentree Sportsplex on Iron City Drive. Adult tickets are just 10 bucks and kids get in for half of that.
The Yellow Jackets also have a pretty cool logo for their merchandise, if you’re looking to splurge. It’s a jacked-up yellow jacket on HGH flying through the air with one hand proclaiming to be No. 1, while the other hand prepares for a slam dunk. So, of course, you’ll want to nab one for your kids since you’re saving on the ticket price. The team only has a few games left in the 2015-16 season, so time is running out. On Feb. 21, the Jackets welcome their intrastate rivals, the York Buccaneers. I hate them so much. Feb. 28 is the day the Grand Rapids Danger comes to town. Both games begin at 5 p.m., so it’s like an early-bird basketball special. After you catch the buzz at the racquet club, you still have time to catch a buzz at a bar down the road. You’re on Iron City Drive after all.