November 19, 2017 10:47 PM
(ABC 6 News) – It’s been ten years since Rochester, Minnesota, and southeastern Minnesota, last had a professional basketball team—and to this day, for some players, it’s still something which is coined as an “indescribable” experience.
In 2007, the Rochester Fire, the fourth and last professional basketball team to exist in the Med City, provided hope and dreams for young basketball players looking to climb the ladder in the sport.
“There were emotions that I still don’t know how to explain,” Erik Karow, a former star guard at Crossroads College in Rochester, said after he was offered a spot on the Fire roster. “We had a signing party and everything. Life was good.”
Karow, who’s strength was outside shooting, enjoyed wrestling and basketball as a youngster growing up in nearby Zumbrota, but he dreamed about playing professional basketball someday—Karow said he even bet his brother $100 he’d make the NBA when he grew up.
“Since I could remember, I’ve always had a ball in my hand,” Karow reflets. “(When I was a kid) we had a wooden backboard (in our driveway) put up backwards, started playing on that and learned not to use the backboard.”
When Karow first heard the news he had earned a spot on the Rochester Fire, the newest team of the American Basketball Association, Karow said he “called his mom” and “was crying.”
“You know, it’s like winning the lottery,” Karow said. “You don’t ever think it’s going to happen.”
A few months passed by, and the sparks of being a part of the Rochester Fire died. In November of 2007, the Fire played an exhibition game against the Minnesota Ripknees (the Ripknees won, 133-113)—and that’s the longest the Fire lasted before being extinguished, as the organization folded and left a sore spot for Karow and the Fire players.
“It’s not something you want to re-visit all the time,” Karow said. “It folded and everybody just kind of left and it was time to get a job. All of our insurance was supposed to be through the Rochester Fire, and then we never had any insurance. It was terrible. MRI’s aren’t cheap, and you’re paying thousands of dollars when you’re supposed to be getting paid thousands of dollars.”
“Something that was supposed to be so big and so good for the community got so bad in publicity. It came about in the wrong way. It’s uncomfortable to talk about. To bring that up again and stir the pot, that’s something I don’t like to bring up.”
That wasn’t the only game of the Rochester Fire’s existence—it was the only game of Karow’s professional basketball career, or as Karow likes to say, “an opportunity taken away” from him.
“I don’t really know how to describe it,” Karow said. “I look back, you think you have everything, you just got signed to a contract to play basketball, your dreams come true, but now I look back at it, and it was kind of the worst thing that happened in my life.”
“You’re getting paid to play a sport that you love and that you worked from high school through college on to now getting paid, then just having it ripped away from you.”
Since the Fire was put out, Karow’s life has taken a “180,” as he’s now a father and husband (Karow married a former Rochester Fire cheerleader), and a business owner (he owns the “Northern Nineteen” bar and grill at Northern Hills Golf Course in Rochester among other businesses).
After the Fire folded, Karow said multiple players burned or got rid of their jerseys and Rochester Fire gear—Karow though, through mixed emotions, has kept everything, such as the practice jerseys, shorts, hats, and the game jerseys.
“I keep it (because it’s) kind of like a memento. It’s a reminder of what happened and where I am now. It’s a reminder that hard work pays off.”
Does professional basketball have a future in Rochester?
Ten years since the Rochester Fire, professional basketball has yet to come back to the Med City—but with a growing city and being a part of a more “solidified market”, some officials say they believe professional basketball could return in the short-term future.
Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Brad Jones wasn’t around when the Fire attempted to stake their claim in Rochester, but he said there was a “general excitement” within the community for a professional basketball team.
“People were like ‘oh this is great, the city needs something like this, we need a little more entertainment, especially during the winter,” Jones said.
After hearing about the way the Rochester Fire was handled, Jones said he best described the Rochester Fire period as a “learning experience.”
“Athletics, an elevated athletics strategy, is in the heir here, and it will happen, it’s just a matter of what and where and the details, but the market is starving for it,” Jones said.
When asked whether or not he believes professional basketball will ever be rekindled in Rochester, Jones thinks it’s “very likely” within the next few years, as Jones said Rochester is a “perfect spot” for a minor league or professional basketball affiliate.
“If you’ve ever heard the term ‘strike while the iron is hot,’ well our iron is heating up here in Rochester,” Jones said. “I think that the people of Rochester are ready.”
In order for professional basketball to return to Rochester, Jones said Taylor Arena (inside the Mayo Civic Center) needs to see “upgrades” to its current venue, such as adding a center-hung scoreboard for communication and statistics, ribbon lighting, seating and the configuration of seating among other features.
“(Taylor Arena) is good, it’s a good multi-purpose space,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of great thing that are here (in Rochester) such as parking availability, skyway connections, good visitor base and passion within the market, a beautiful riverfront plaza for pregame and postgame events, etc. It’s just a matter of elevating it to the next level.”
Jones said facility conversations could begin as soon as Monday, Nov. 20 at Rochester’s next city council meeting. Jones added it’ll be “up to the city council” whether or not to put together a task force to “dig deeper” into what it’d take to improve the arena.
Updated: November 19, 2017 10:47 PM
Created: November 19, 2017 07:59 PM
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