No Buzz about the Beez
Exploring the Past and Future of Pro Basketball in Fargo
BY JOHN MILLER
Fact or fiction: Fargo was once home to a professional basketball team.
This piece explores the brief history of professional basketball in Fargo-Moorhead, why it never took off, and the possibility of bringing pro basketball back to the Fargo area.
A professional basketball team existed in Fargo once upon a time. From 1995-2001, the Fargo-Moorhead Beez competed in the International Basketball Association (IBA), which eventually merged with the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) in 2001. The team played its home games in the Fargo Civic Center, on Fourth Street North, Fargo.
Fargo currently has one professional sports team, the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks. The Redhawks are a member of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.
Fargo also has an amateur junior hockey team, the Fargo Force. It is a member of the United States Hockey League (USHL), the largest junior hockey league in the United States.
The Beez had team success, winning the IBA Championship in 1996 and 1998. Despite bringing two championships to Fargo-Moorhead, the Beez never gained popularity amongst the people, according to MSUM legend and walking sports encyclopedia Larry “Scotty” Scott. He served as MSUM’s sports information director for 40 years, before retiring in 2009. He was inducted into the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) Hall of Fame in 2015.
“I compared the Beez to the Redhawks when they first started,” says Scotty. “Initially, several of us thought it could be fun, hoping they could get some NBA guys in town, but they never had great name recognition.”
The most famous Beez player is current NBA center, Chris “Birdman” Andersen. He was a member of the Beez in 2000-2001, before playing for the Fayetteville Patriots Development League team and Denver Nuggets NBA team. Andersen has never been more than a role player in the NBA, with a career average of 5 points and 5 rebounds per game.
Unfortunately, the Beez never attained the popularity level of the Force or Redhawks. Scotty cited more reasons for not catching on than a lack of big names.
“Pro basketball was quite popular in Bismarck and Sioux Falls,” Scotty says. “I think the mindset was that Fargo-Moorhead is a similar metropolitan area, so it should work. The three college programs in town (NDSU, Concordia, MSUM) did not seem very supportive of the Beez. I don’t think they saw the Beez as a threat, but were not disappointed when the team folded.”
Could pro basketball return?
Fargo-Moorhead could be a feasible location for another basketball team, however, an NBA team would likely not be able to survive in Fargo. Salt Lake City, for example, has one of the smallest markets in the NBA, with an estimated population of just over 191,000. However, when including the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, the population expands to about 1.15 million (2013 estimate).
The city of Fargo is not far behind Salt Lake City in population (113,658), but only grows to about 233,836 when including the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area (2015 estimate).
An NBA Development Development League (D-League) team could survive, and thrive in Fargo-Moorhead, primarily because of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The D-League serves as the official minor league of the NBA. Several NBA teams have designated D-League teams as its affiliates, where players and coaches are sent to better their skills for the NBA.
The Timberwolves recently completed its purchase of the Iowa Energy, making it the Wolves’ official D-League affiliate. However, Fargo could be a frontrunner If the Timberwolves wanted to expand even further and add another D-League affiliate to develop future front-office candidates, players and coaches.
“The Timberwolves could stash some guys here,” Scotty says. “If the team wanted to come check a player out, they could fly to Fargo or bus here. Something more to draw interest would be the possibility of ex-Minnesota Gopher and NDSU players to come play in Fargo.”
Recent MSUM graduate and avid basketball fan Jeremy Bontjes would be happy to see a D-League team come to Fargo.
“As a basketball fan, I would enjoy watching a live game with the caliber of players a D-League team would bring to town,” Bontjes says.
Where would Fargo’s D-League team call home?
Scheels Arena, home of the Fargo Force, could be the home of the Fargo D-League team. Scheels Arena has a seating capacity of 6,000, an upgrade from the Fargo Civic Center’s capacity of 1,500.
Bontjes thinks the recently opened Sanford Health Athletic Complex (SHAC) could be a feasible venue for D-League basketball. The SHAC is where NDSU men’s and women’s basketball play its home games and can seat 5,700 people.
“I think the SHAC is beyond capable of handling a D-League team,” Bontjes says. “It’s a brand new, top notch facility.”
The SHAC could be a sufficient arena if the NDSU would be willing to share with the Fargo D-Leaguers.
What would this team be called?
The Fargo Flood. A team name that rolls nicely off the tongue, and represents something Fargo is known for — vicious flooding from the Red River.
Fargo is unlikely to host a D-League team, or to have any basketball team above the college level back, but, as Scotty confirms, it is certainly possible.
John Miller is a communication studies major and sports communications minor at MSUM. He currently works as the sports editor at MSUM’s student newspaper, The Advocate, and as a sports clerk at the Fargo Forum. He aspires to write professionally about the NBA. Contact him at email@example.com.