Welcome to America's first green pro sports team
"I'm just so appreciative to come back," former Terps star Byron Mouton said during Wednesday's introductory Maryland GreenHawks press conference. "I love playing basketball, and going out and talking to kids about global warming."
Look, this is going to take some getting used to for all of us. The NightHawks--who claim to be the nation's longest-running minor-league basketball franchise--have gone green, changing their name, attracting green-friendly sponsors like Honest Tea and Sweet Green and CarbonFund.org, and holding an introductory event at which the promise of a bamboo court, hemp nets and uniforms made from either recycled plastic or recycled bamboo were floated.
"I've never been at a press conference talking about recycling," said Coach Rob Spon, a veteran of the IBL, CBA, IBA, USBL and PBL, the league in which the GreenHawks play. "This is a first for me."
I should note that Spon's name plate was missing from the dais, so the quick-thinking Daniel Artest--rebounding forward and brother of Ron, who's hoping to land a lucrative overseas contract through his GreenHawks exposure--grabbed the tag for GM Adam Dantus and wrote "Coach Spon!" on it.
"It's a recyclable team, we're gonna recycle his nametag," Artest noted.
"You're coming off the bench, Daniel," said Dantus, when he realized his tag had vanished.
I've said it before and I'll say it again; the NightHawks, or GreenHawks, or whatever they're called, throw the best press conferences in the area, and it isn't even close. Three years ago, there was the event at Meiwah, featuring 7-foot-9 signee Sun Ming Ming, James Thrash and Tre' Johnson. Two years ago, there was the memorable introduction of star Tamir Goodman and coach Lawrence Moten, at a Jesuit school, on the first day of Hanukkah, with a side of ham.
And then this, an event at Bethesda Green, the Montgomery County public-private outfit dedicated to helping the community go green, featuring Artest, Mouton, a newly green mascot named Dunkin, former N.C. State star Scooter Sherrill, American University's Travis Lay, potential big-man coach Gheorghe Muresan, and a promise to balance the carbon footprint left by a home schedule at Wootton High, 10 road trips, and the team's corporate headquarters.
"I don't really know much about recycling, I just know blue bin and green bin, pretty much that's it," said Artest, who quickly became the favorite quote of the team's media contingent. "But if it's good, then I'm all for it. I guess we need cleaner air, cleaner streets, and I'm just all for it. I'm just glad to be here, to have an opportunity to play basketball. Anything for the good, I'm for it."
I asked Sherrill whether he had ever been at a green-themed basketball press conference; "never ever," he said. "First time. You?"
Come to think of it, no, I haven't. But it sure beats the heck out of transcribing radio interviews of ex-Redskins.
(Speaking of which, one of the reasons Sherrill's in this area is because he's married to a Redskins cheerleader. Which must make him a fan of....
"America's Team," he said. "We have a lot of wars." Don't hold it against him, ok?)
The GreenHawks won't start playing until Jan. 16, but they've already been dubbed "the pride of Montgomery County," "a pioneer in promoting environmental conservation," and a team dedicated to "spreading the message of environmental conservation to the community and its basketball fans."
"This is not just a PR stunt to say the NightHawks are now green," said team owner Tom Doyle, before ticking off the team's environmental goals, which include the recycling of their basketball shoes and the development of a game-ready ball made of recycled materials.
But heck, I wouldn't fault him if it was. Got me to the press conference, anyhow.
"Minor-league basketball, it's not all about winning championships," said Spon, a man who once coached a franchise where players raced to the bank after receiving their checks so they'd get the first crack at the team's funds. "It's about selling tickets, generating sponsorships, putting people in seats. Now, we can do both."
What else? Well, Spon promises he'll wear a green suit and green ties. Artest said that Ron will be buying tickets for area children to attend the GreenHawks' games. Doyle called his team "one of the winningest franchises in D.C., certainly over the last five years," which is the very definition of damning with faint praise. A CarbunFund.org representative said the name change "just shows how mainstream the green community and green actions are becoming." And Mouton talked in the typically grandiose preseason language, the language of winning titles and playing hard and changing the world.
"It's bigger than basketball, it's way bigger than basketball," he said. "I love playing, I'm gonna play hard, I'm gonna win a championship, but that's not the only thing. We're out here to convince the kids to recycle. Basketball's easy, that's nothing to me. We're gonna win a championship. But we're all here to convince kids to do the right thing."
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