Kevin Copeland is selling two things. One is a 130-point-per-game,
run-and-gun basketball offense. Two is a chance -- an opportunity for
athletes from around the world to vie for treasured spots on NBA
The mix makes for "affordable family entertainment," which perhaps
as early as next year, will be based out of a 52-foot-high, lighted
air dome at the Orange County Fairgrounds, and maybe some day, a
full-fledged arena, he said.
Copeland, the general manager for the American Basketball Assn.'s
Orange County Crush, and four other partners have built the Costa
Mesa-based Crush around Head Coach Earl Cureton -- a member of the
1983 NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers -- and assistant coaches Corey
Gaines and Norman Nixon, the former Los Angeles Lakers guard. Cureton
had led the ABA's Long Beach Jam to a league championship.
With coaches in place, a motley team that includes NBA champion
Dennis Rodman, local standouts, a Pakistani player and a Taiwanese
star has been assembled. The group spans 22 to 44 in age and 6 feet
to 7 feet in height. Aliases include "the Michael Jordan of Taiwan"
and "The Worm."
Copeland, a marketer who has worked with Shaquille O'Neal and
Earth, Wind & Fire, has high hopes for the Crush, which is part of
the 37-team ABA. These days, the league -- contrary to the 1960s and
1970s, when it competed for talent with the NBA -- is a licensed farm
system for the NBA, Copeland said.
An ESPN television contract is ready to be finalized. Professional
dancers to energize the crowds are being assembled. Tickets can now
be reserved. Team officials are talking about Costa Mesa as a
long-term home, with an arena in the works. The air dome logistics
are being ironed out to begin playing at the fairgrounds as early as
January. As the details are worked out, the team is playing home
games at the Bren Events Center at UC Irvine. Its first home game in
the new 2004-05 season will be Thursday at the center.
"They are not playing for money," Copeland said proudly of the
players, whose salaries he acknowledged are not six figures. "It's
the love of the game and getting back to the NBA. That's another
reason we can offer the fans a great price."
In fact, Copeland said he knows players who turned down six-figure
contracts to play in Europe to have a chance to play in a league in
which they can more easily jump to the NBA.
Copeland sat down with the Pilot's Ryan Carter to talk hoops and
the area's new professional sports team.
Why Costa Mesa/Orange County?
The reason we chose Orange County was the love of sports this
community has. We've seen the kind of support here for other teams in
Orange County -- the Angels and the Ducks. Also, the community fit
the profile we were looking for, for family, affordable fun, which is
what the ABA is about. Costa Mesa became a byproduct of that simply
because we wanted to do something not traditional.
We really didn't want to come here and have our foundation at just
any arena. We did look at a lot of other arenas and basketball
facilities around Orange County, but because our season pretty much
coincides with the NBA's, and everyone else's, our choices were
limited. But we were looking for something different. We found that
at the fairgrounds, which attracts families. They have a great
facility there and they have a love for sports as well.
It was a good marriage for us to work with the fairgrounds, with
this existing fan base already there. It worked out well. My partners
and I felt that it would be a great relationship and made sense for
everybody, including the community, which we hope, in time, we can
get to love us as much as their existing teams here.
When did this all come about?
We made the decision in February this year, when we purchased the
franchise for this area.
How do you put a team together?
We're still doing it. I mean, quite frankly, the foundation of any
sports franchise is the team. Many think it's the building, the other
stuff, the office and staff and all that. But it really isn't.
Without the team, you don't have a product. That's the main focus of
what we're doing.
We first had to hire a coach. It took a few months of going back
and forth with different candidates. But with Head Coach Earl
Cureton, we knew this was the guy we wanted.
We got our assistant coach, Corey Gaines, and we have Special
Assistant Norm Nixon, who played for the Lakers.
Your coach sets your identity, and what kind of team he wants to
run. That's the kind of players you are going to get.
Six former players of the Long Beach Jam now play for us. He went
out and got other players. Once they heard what we had here, we
probably had at least 400 or 500 players and agents calling me to
play on our team.
Once we had that, it was easy for us to attract the kind of talent
that the coach needs to have.
Tell me a little about the makeup of the team? Where are these
At the end of the day, we've got some local players from here in
Orange County, some from around the country and the world. It's a
The offense they play averaged 130 points a game. They press full
court all the time. It's energy all game long. It's like a
run-and-gun, pressure offense and defense.
It's a very diverse group. We love that. Not everybody can play
this type of offense or defense.
So why should people come check you guys out?
One thing is that it is family, affordable fun. You get the talent
level and entertainment of the NBA at very affordable prices.
Some of out tickets are $7.50. Floor seats are $50. Fifty bucks is
not going to buy you much at a Lakers game. You have floor seats with
Not that I'm slamming the NBA. Our job really is to help guys get
back to the NBA. We expect to lose players. We want to lose players.
And it's not just players. It's coaches, our Crush Girls, our
trainers, our equipment people -- we want all of them to have the
opportunity to move up to the other level. That's what we're here
What does having Rodman on your team mean to you and the team?
Rodman's a great player. He's not just a marketing tool. To have
the five-time rebounding champion on your team is incredible for us.
The players respect that. He's a coach on the court. He knows a lot.
He's done a lot. He's got the nuances down. He can help us win, quite
frankly. He's only contracted to play home games.
Between the lines, Rodman comes to play basketball.
How'd you get involved in all this?
My background is in marketing and sales and food and beverage
companies. I've always had a love for sports. I played in high school
and junior college -- mostly football. I've done promotions with
athletes ... I've always liked that type of involvement. So, when I
was approached by this partnership to go after a team, they felt that
with my background and knowledge in marketing and sponsorships, and
businesses as well, that I'd be a good fit.
Anything else you want to add?
We are the community's team. We picked Orange County for a reason.
We're going to be here and be part of the fabric of this community.
We are going to be involved. We have community programs. We have high
school and middle school nights every week during the season at home
games. We're going to have high school kids perform, whether it's
band, cheerleading or through basketball clinics. We are a new team.
We are developing our identity. We're developing a lot of things.