News Report, Kia Croom | Photo, Robert Rogers
Despite losing their first-ever American Basketball Association (ABA) playoff game to the Bay Area Matrix by a score of 126-86, the Richmond Rockets can take pride in their inaugural season, which ended with a winning record of 18-8.
Although their stint in the playoffs was short lived, the Rockets have reason to celebrate. The team found a way to win consistently, despite a number of off-court challenges, not the least of which were financial. Rockets players soldiered on, even when the team was not able to pay them what had been promised in their contracts.
“We are one of the few (ABA) teams that gets paid in the Bay Area. Each of our players is paid an amount between $150 and $400 per game,” said Rockets point guard Patrick Mitchell.
Despite monies owed, the Rockets players remained focused. “The guys showed up and continued to play,” Mitchell said. “We all love the game and believed the financial situation would be resolved, so all we could do is keep playing to win. The fact that my guys continued to play despite monies owed to them speaks a lot about their integrity,” he said.
Keith Hazell, Rockets President of Basketball Operations, attributes the team’s financial woes to the company’s business model that is dependant on ticket sales.
“We bring in 400 to 500 fans a game, but we need 1,100 to 1,200 fans to come out. Throughout the season, we have been selling about one-quarter of the capacity, which has made it difficult for us to pay our bills and players,” Hazell said.
Struggling to stay afloat, the Rockets turned to the community for support.
“We took our financial concerns up with the city council and asked them for support,” Mitchell said. “Their main concern was tax dollars and the fact that there are a lot of people in the community that care more about other issues,” he said.
While the Rockets organization addresses their financial issues behind the scenes, Rockets fans are for the most part oblivious.
“I haven’t heard anything about financial problems,” said John-neka Taylor, a Rockets fan and longtime Richmond resident.
“All four games I attended were pretty full,” she said.
Taylor said the Rockets’ decision to come to Richmond has been the best that thing that could have happened to the city.
“[The Rockets] have really brought the community together, especially since the younger people in the community really don’t have anything to do. The Rockets have given them something to do,” she said.
Taylor said she hopes to see the Rockets make a comeback next season, although she hopes the team will add more local talent to the roster.
“People are really excited about the two players that are from Richmond, Patrick Mitchell and Tita Davis. Having more people on the team from the city will get more people in the city invested,” Taylor said.
So what’s in store for the Rockets next year?
“The team will return next season,” said Hazell. “We have a solid fan base and sponsors like the Richmond-Berkeley Marriott, Chevron Richmond Refinery, D.P. Security, Armor Locksmith and Hilltop Mall. We are confident that our community and public partnerships will be more prevalent in supporting us next season,” he said.
The team will continue to thrive under the leadership of Head Coach Phranklin McKinney, assistant coaches James Rhodes and Rick Sampson and under the care of team doctor George Keres.
Last summer, the Richmond Rockets exploded on the scene as the newest ABA expansion team to join the league. The Rockets are one of four ABA teams in the East Bay and are ranked #17 out of 94 ABA teams.