In Anchorage, minor-league basketball matters.
The Northern Knights of the Eastern Basketball Association came into being because two operators of a bicylce shop had an inspiration. The streets are covered with ice and snow for up to six months of the year, much to the detriment of the bicyle business.
Shortly after Mike Shupe, owner of The Bicylce Shop, and his manager, Rich Smith, came up with the idea of a basketball team, 85 individuals contributed $500 each to keep the idea of the Knights alive.
Jack Brushert, general manager of the Anchorage Glacier Pilots baseball team, and a number of local businessmen joined forces with the cyclemen. Shupe is chairman of the board of the Knights and Smith is club president.
The franchise is an oddity in the EBA, which has never had a team west of Pennsylvania, let alone north of the Gulf of Alaska. The Knights are one of five new teams this year, as are the Washington Metros.
Community participation is a large part of the success of the Knights. On opening might the 4,400-seat gymnasium was filled to the rafters, and although that was the only time the gym was full for a game, attendance has been building consistantly as the community becomes more familiar with the team.
Paid attendance at the Metro series averaged a little more than 3,000, team officials said.
Under the terms by which the Northern Knights entered the league, the team is responsible for all transportation costs, room and board for the nine visiting teams and must pay its own way when it makes its single road trip at the end of the season in February.
"Our road trip alone will probably cost us $23,000," public relations director Scott Loll said. The team is scheduled to play 21 home games and 10 on the road.
When the Metros trekked north to Alaska, in December, they ran into unusual trouble, a frozen fuel pump that required a change of airplanes. Within hours after the final buzzer of the third of three straight losses in three days to the Knights, the Metros were on their way home.
Metro coach Phil Bonvano decried the unavailability of several big men who couldn't make the trip (Jim O'Brien, Tom Roy and Henry Jackson) because of jobs, and the loss of 7-foot Bill Lynn, who tore a tendon in the second game and was hospitalized.
The Knights won, 127-115, 148-134 and 139-131. Ducky Vaughn scored 37 points for the Metros in the last game, despite leaving with an injured leg, and teammate Ruben Collins scored 35.
Anchorage, Alaska's largest city with almost 180,000 residents (nearly half the state's population), is a sports-minded community that has had a semipro National Baseball Congress team for 10 years and a hockey team.
The Northern Knights are coached by 36-year-old Bill Klucas, who last year coached the now-defunct Hartford Downtowners of the EBA and makes no bones about his ambition to become a National Basketball Association coach. Before joining the EBA he coached the San Paulo Palmeiras of Brazil to a 49-5 two-season record.
Klucas manned the Northern Knights with players selected at free-agent try out in Chicago, Los Angeles and Anchorage.
Name of several are familiar to followers of the game in the contiguous 48: former Seattle SuperSonic Dean Tolson and major-college stars Jeff Tyson, Al Fleming and Herman Harris.
Recalled recently by the Sonics, Fleming may not be the only one to make it into the NBA ahead of Klucas.