VANCOUVER — A new era is underway for one of the Canadian Elite Basketball League's original six teams.
The club formerly known as the Fraser Valley Bandits announced Tuesday that the team has been sold to local owners Kevin Dhaliwal and Bryan Slusarchuk, and rebranded as the Vancouver Bandits.
“It’s not a profit-loss thing for us," said Dhaliwal, founder of real estate developers Essence Properties. "It’s more about creating that atmosphere, that energy in the building. Our No. 1 goal is to draw fans.”
The Bandits follow the Scarborough Shooting Stars as the second CEBL team to be operated by outside ownership. Eight other teams continue to be owned by the league.
Along with the Bandits, Dhaliwal and Slusarchuk — a mining executive who co-founded K92 Mining Inc. and is the principal at venture capital firm SluzCap — bought the exclusive right to own and operate a CEBL franchise in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley Regional District.
The deal prompted the club to rebrand as the Vancouver Bandits.
A lot of people still don't know there's a team playing just outside of the big city, Dhaliwal said.
“I was looking at some of the comments on the league’s Instagram and they asked a question, ‘Which city should get a team next?’ And a lot of comments were saying Vancouver. And I was like ‘We have a team!’" he said.
The Bandits will continue to make their home at the Langley Events Centre, where they spent the 2022 campaign after playing their first three seasons in Abbotsford, B.C.
In Langley, the Bandits posted a 12-8 record and finished fourth in the regular-season standings before being ousted from the playoffs by the Guelph Nighthawks.
“The Fraser Valley is an awesome place to live. I just don’t think a lot of people understand what the Fraser Valley is," Dhaliwal said. "And being renamed the Vancouver Bandits, we have the Vancouver Giants (Western Hockey League team) that play out of there. So I think that’s a great step in the right direction.”
The league said in a release Tuesday that Vancouver Island and the Okanagan region are still "strong prospects" for an expansion team.
The Bandits are the second CEBL team to announce a rebrand this season after the league said Aug. 17 that it is moving the Nighthawks to Calgary. The CEBL said a new name and logo for the club will be announced at a later date.
Slusarchuk is a longtime Bandits season ticket holder and said he's been consistently impressed not only by the quality of play but the entertainment experience as a whole.
"It’s a fun atmosphere along with the talent," he said. "And I just think the more people we can get out to the games the better. Because once you come once, you’re kind of hooked on it as a place to be.”
A dad to two basketball-playing teenage sons, Slusarchuk started looking into purchasing the Bandits when he saw how involved the team is in the community.
“What I realized is that even in the off-season, year round, the Bandits were having multiple points of contact with these kids. They’d shown up in their schools with (mascot) Berry the Bandit, players and so on and so forth," he said.
"I’m a big fan of basketball, but it was the community-first approach that I saw the Bandits applying that really got me interested.”
The ownership news comes ahead of a big season for the Bandits. The club is set to host the league's championship weekend in August 2023 — a role that comes with an automatic berth in the semifinals.
It's a position the team is keen to take advantage of, Slusarchuk said.
“It’s always a good time to win a championship," he said. "But this year, with the new direction of the team, with the championship weekend being held in British Columbia, this would be as good or better year than any to do that. And we really want to support that.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press