Flying high with the Akron Aviators, our ABA basketball team

Holy Akron, it’s 2019! I hope y’all had a fantastic New Year, and whether your hangover was alcohol, food or otherwise induced, hopefully it’s gone by now. One thing that isn’t going away anytime soon is this weather. It’s colder than a well digger’s ass and I’m on the hunt for something to do indoors.

Luckily for me, it’s basketball season! Yes, my astute reader, you correctly recall that I am a Boston Celtics fan by birthright. Why would I wander to a Cavs game? Well, I would, especially if they were playing my boys from back east. I made it to Cleveland a few weekends ago to see Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors throw down on the Cavs.

But there is more than one basketball league in Northeast Ohio.

Since 2000, the American Basketball Association (ABA) — no relation to the ABA of the 60s and 70’s other than the name — has brought independent basketball to cities around the country. Last year the Akron Aviators played their inaugural season, joining the likes of the Chicago Fury and Libertyville Vipers in the North Central Division. The season runs from November to March with a total of 22 games, including 10 at home.

When the Aviators are playing in Akron, they share a homecourt with the Vikings at North High on Gorge Blvd. It is not uncommon for ABA teams to play at high school gymnasiums. I don’t think teams or the league will be asking for taxpayer dollars to build arenas anytime soon.

As it so happens on this fine, bitterly cold Saturday evening, the Aviators will be hosting Detroit’s Team Network over at North High. My plans are made. So are my kids’. Basketball is a family affair. If this were a date night sans children, my wife and I would definitely stop by Nepali Kitchen beforehand, but with the offspring in tow, we opt for some food at home.

When you arrive at North High for a game, don’t be deterred by the darkness. The lights aren’t shining too bright in the front of the school and the gym is in the back. You just have to cruise around the side of the building to the court. Once there, you can bask in the glow of institution-grade fluorescent lighting.

We make our way up to the second floor of the school, grab our tickets and find some seats. Game time is 7 pm and things start promptly. Team Network has a female head coach which is awesome. They immediately give the Aviators a run for their money.

The crowd, small and intimate, is wholeheartedly behind their team. Most present are wearing t-shirts or hats with the Aviator’s logo — an A and a yellow plane — adorning them. Back and forth goes the score. By the end of the first half, we find the Aviators down by nearly 20.

I tell my three year old not to dismay. She does not! My daughter understands that the game isn’t over until time runs out. She’s also learned to say “Bad call, ref!” at appropriate moments, parroting her father.

As the third quarter dwindles away, Akron is back in this game. I won’t pretend to be a scout or an expert in basketball talent. However, these guys can ball. My basic understanding of the sport suggests that not many ABA players have a realistic chance of making the NBA. Whatever. They hustle. They pass. They play defense. Most importantly, they’re all giving a ton of effort on the court and enjoying every minute. So is Team Network. The game is fun because the people on the court are enjoying themselves as much as the fans in the crowd.

Guess what? We won! Final score 110-107. Akron killed it in the end. No mercy. What a game.

You read The Devil Strip, so it’s likely you’re invested in the city. Take it to the next level and become an Aviators fan.

See you at the game Saturday. Seriously! The next Devil Strip Social is this Saturday evening, Jan. 5, at North High. We’re showing our hometown heroes some love. Show up! Tip-off is at 7 pm.

Dave Daly

After growing up outside Boston, Massachusetts Dave Daly traipsed around the country for a number of years before settling in Akron with his family and joining The Devil Strip team.