Professional basketball will return to Delaware this fall as the Philadelphia 76ers have acquired an NBA Developmental League franchise and the team will play at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center as the Delaware 87ers, a nod to the year Delaware became the first state in the union (1787).
Cheesy (okay, TERRIBLE) name aside, this is Delaware’s second relatively major professional sports team following the single A Wilmington Blue Rocks baseball team, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer. However, the 87s (or Sevens as they’ll be known…I guess we’ll grow to like it) won’t be the first professional basketball team the state has ever seen. There was a time for a good part of the 1990s when another minor league basketball team called the First State home.
The Delaware Blue Bombers were the brainchild of Scott and Carolyn Barker, a young enterprising couple who lived just across the Delaware/Pennsylvania line. They purchased a charter franchise in the Atlantic Basketball Association and chose the Blue Bombers nicname in memory of the Wilmington Blue Bombers of the old Eastern League from the 60s and early 70s.
As you can imagine, 12 year-old Chris Stevens was super excited. So much so, he even wrote up a media guide/history book of sorts for the team on his typewriter (yes, a typewriter) and sent it to Scott, who was coach and GM as well as co-owner.
You can imagine the shock when Scott Barker showed up to my house one day with a signed program and chatted me up about the team for hours, and it’s still one of the fondest memories of my life. He would meet with me after games, win or lose, to talk about how the team did, so that was my first sort of sports writing experience, even though I wasn’t writing for anyone then.
From that point on, the Bombers had a devoted fan. My Saturday and Sunday afternoons from the ages of 13 to 17 were spent at Wilmington High School and the New Castle PAL gym watching semipro basketball and (in a lovable indictment of my social standing as a high schooler) I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
There were many different players that passed through Delaware, some were hometown heroes (Anthony Wright and Robbie Johnson from the University of Delaware), others were journeymen like former Georgetown/Northeastern standout Lonnie Harrell. Mostly, they were just guys who had played college ball and were weekend warriors, knowing the NBA might’ve been beyond reach, but they could still make some money on the weekends playing the game they loved.
That being said, this is as close to big time as Delaware will get. The NBDL is THE NBA farming system, meaning you could legitimately see guys who possibly will play for the Sixers, much like former Blue Rocks have gone on to play for the Kansas City Royals and Boston Red Sox over the past 20 years.
So needless to say, I’m happy about professional basketball returning to Delaware, and hopefully the 87ers, Sevens, whatever can provide the current generation of young basketball fans with the same closeness and excitement I felt cheering for the Blue Bombers 15-20 years earlier.