By Jason Menard
For a city that’s trying to brand itself as the City of Champions, showing clear favoritism and treating an actual champion as the ugly red-headed stepchild is hardly winning behaviour.
The City of London recently decided to try branding itself as the City of Champions to coincide with an expected Memorial Cup victory. It sounds nice to say, but if you listen closely you’ll hear an echo as the name is totally hollow.
We can all agree that it was a little premature for the City to bestow that mantle upon itself before the final Memorial Cup Championship game was played. You can play word games and suggest the London Knights were the Ontario Hockey League champions, so the celebration is warranted, but we all know what was intended.
Let’s also just skip over the part where there are few things as cheesy as giving yourself a nickname. We’ve got one – the Forest City. It works. It’s good. City of Champions? I think Pittsburgh (since the 70s) and Edmonton (since the 80s) have that name down. Simply put, you earn a nickname — you don’t give it to yourself and hope it sticks.
And weren’t we just the City of Opportunity a few months ago?
Instead of creating a bogus excuse around this City of Champions celebration moniker, it would have been more honest to simply call it what it was — a reason to celebrate for a city that so badly needs one.
Of course, we already had that reason – and it went by largely unnoticed. I checked out the City of London’s media releases for the month of March (and April, just to be safe) and there were no congratulatory messages from the City recognizing London’s first (and so far only) 2012 national champion – The London Lightning.
You may remember that on March 25th, the Lightning took home the inaugural NBL Canada crown – a feat accomplished at the John Labatt Centre. And what did we hear out of the city?
No parades. No market square galas. Not even a Lightning-themed celebratory doughnut at our local Tim Hortons.
Sure the Lightning only draw 3,000 on a good day, compared to the 9,000 fans the Knights’ regularly pack into the JLC. But it wasn’t that long ago that the Knights were treading water with an average attendance of 3,300 (don’t believe me? Team owner Mark Hunter says so on his own Knights’ bio). And that was in the year 2,000 – after 35 years of existence.
It takes time and community support for a team to grow. The Lightning made a remarkable effort getting out to the schools, meeting kids, and generating all sorts of goodwill. By any measure, its inaugural season was a success. Just not parade-worthy, I guess.
Last week, the voice of the London Knights, Mike Stubbs, rightly pilloried a rumour that would have seen both the hockey and basketball teams honoured today. This wouldn’t have just been a hollow gesture – it would have been a downright slap to the face of the basketball club.
It’d be like going all out for one child’s birthday, creating banners and inviting all of her friends, then – after realizing that you forgot her sister’s birthday three months ago – saying, “Actually, this is a party for two…”
Of course, that sister is living countless miles away and neither she nor any of her friends would be able to make it to the party in time. But it’s the thought that counts, right?
The Knights offer a great success story. It’s a young team that exceeded most pundits’ expectations and came up one goal short of winning the Memorial Cup for the second time in its existence. The team is a great rallying point for citizens from all walks of life and all parts of London.
And while I have no problem recognizing the team and its management for their success, this celebration only shines a light on how the city feels about its other star sports franchise.
While the Knights will be feted by the self-professed City of Champions, its one true 2012 champion will be nowhere to be found. Not even with a map. After all, while Mayor Joe Fontana handed owner Mark Hunter a street sign with London Knights Way on it, with a plan to rename Market Lane right in the heart of downtown; London Lightning Road is a cul-de-sac off the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
As the Golden Boy gets carried aloft on the city’s shoulders, tonight, getting a bunch of ‘Atta boy!s’ and ‘You did us proud’s, one must wonder how our hoops-playing red-headed stepchild will feel about this celebration?
First in the league, but a distant second in the City’s heart? Hardly the way a City of Champions should act.