A hoops dream comes true

BILL LANKHOF

, Last Updated: 6:44 AM ET

If you build it, they will come.

Glen Grunwald & Friends are hoping it plays out just as happily in basketball as it did in baseball.

They've built their own Fieldhouse of Dreams -- a 42,000 square foot, four-court basketball-only facility located at Downsview Park which opens to the public today.

Called HoopDome, it'll cost "in the seven figures", says Grunwald. Its high-profile backers include former Maple Leaf and broadcaster Nick Kypreos, Raptors commentator Paul Jones and the Lebovic family, a big name in the home-building industry.

Meantime, Grunwald, the former Raptors general manager, is commuting between Toronto and New York, where he helps Isiah Thomas run the Knicks.

But, he'll be home to see the birth of his new baby. Might even take a few shots but, he says, "I don't think I'll play. I'm too old and feeble." As opposed to his gymnasium which is all shiny and new.

So, how does a guy who builds basketball teams go to, well, just building?

"A local high school teacher, Ted Badner, came to my office when I was with the Raptors. He had this idea of building a multi-court facility in Toronto. I said, 'Great, but I'm tied up with the Raptors right now.' Then they fired me. Next day Ted was on the phone and asked: 'Ah, what about now?'"

Grunwald decided he had no defence against the plan. It does seem a bit of a gamble, though. Toronto isn't exactly a basketball valhalla.

Construction on the leased building at Downsview began last December. Today it's a brightly lit interior with each full court complete with bleachers, high end portable baskets, scoreboards and professional-style hardwood floors.

There are also half courts and cages for pickup games "where kids can just show up and join in," Grunwald said.

"It's where the old Air Force base used to be. They've got these old, huge aircraft facilities where they built the Mosquito Bomber. It's neat. It's got the old saw-tooth roof with huge doors.

"They already had some indoor soccer. They put in some beach volleyball and now we're putting in basketball. The concept is that eventually it'll be an all-sports city park," Grunwald said, "it's an interesting space that has the feel of an indoor playground."

New York has them. Boston has one. So, it's not entirely a new concept.

"(Pistons executive) Joe Dumars has one in Detroit. There's one in Ft. Wayne Indiana that has four courts including one that is an exact replica of Indiana University's Assembly Hall with the same scoreboard and the same banners hanging up."

Of course, Indiana basketball is one of the Big Three, along with godliness and cleanliness -- although not necessarily in that order.

The other downside here could be it's location. Downsview might be interesting, light and airy; it's also a long way from downtown and potentially out of reach for kids from Peel or Scarborough. It's about a kilometre walk from the last subway stop.

ACCESSIBILITY A KEY

"I know Downsview Park is talking (to the TTC) about having a bus from Sheppard Avenue go right into there and do a loop. "It's going to be really important for kids to have access to the facility. We're hopeful the TTC will come through on that." And, if it doesn't? And, if too few players show up? Well, they could always open those big doors, let the light shine in, and plant a really nice corn field.


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