Anthony Chase, the new CEO and owner of Nashville's only pro basketball team The Music City Stars, knows he has a terrific squad. Last season, when they were still known as The Nashville Broncos, the club went 23-4 and reached the semifinals of the American Basketball Association (ABA).
They're already 5-1 on this young season. But Chase also knows he has an uphill battle convincing a skeptical local sporting public that any type of professional basketball team can make it here.
"As someone who's attended lots of entertainment and sports events in Nashville over the years, I know the city has plenty of passionate and knowledgeable basketball fans," Chase said. "When the opportunity came along to purchase the team, I felt it was a slam dunk situation."
After changing both their name and ownership status in July, the Stars are off to a great start in the 2009-2010 season.
They're also back in Lipscomb's Allen Arena, where the first incarnation of the team, then known, as the Nashville Rhythm, made big news on and off the court in the 2004-2005 season.
Their history-making run included hiring the first full-time female coach of a men's pro team (former Vandy player Ashley McElhiney) and her subsequent on-court clash with co-owner Sally Anthony that got Nashville and the Rhythm featured on ESPN and in Sports Illustrated for the wrong reasons.
The Rhythm eventually flamed out and didn't even bother to compete in the postseason playoffs.
As the Stars prepare for a Dec. 27 home game against The Bluegrass Stallions (a Kentucky team also owned by Chase's Sports Entertainment Group LLC), the team's athletic prowess isn't the issue.
"It's kind of like they've been burned twice already," Chase said. "We fully know all the mistakes of the past. The first time you had the unfortunate incident and it gets all over the news. The second situation with the Broncos was more a deal where they moved out of Allen Arena into the Municipal Auditorium and the atmosphere changed from one of being family-friendly to a more nightclub/star scene."
"We're back at Allen Arena and we're definitely highlighting the family environment again while providing low-cost, quality professional sports entertainment," Chase continued. "If you're comparing us to the NBA, well, we're not competing with them. We're not asking you to spend $500 to $1,000 a game and nearly go broke trying to get tickets."
Chase says he's positioning the Stars to be the Triple A/Double A of pro basketball, with quality athletes and good people who will be accessible to the public and media at all times, will make a good impression in the community and will hustle and work hard at all times.
"I'm no stranger to difficult start-up operations," Chase maintained. "My history of working with health care and technology companies has taught me a lot about what it takes to get things off the ground and things you have to do when you're dealing with a tough situation."
Chase's other business activities began in 1988, when he started the Chase Corner Pharmacy. He co-founded and became CEO of Extendacare, a chain of long-term health care facilities in 1995, and in 2002 formed Covenant Hospice LLC.
Though Chase calls himself a "laid-back owner"—and adds "you won't see me putting myself out front unless you catch me yelling in the stands about an official's bad call"—he's actively involved in the operation.
Changes in the team uniforms that include stars down the side and a color pattern reminiscent of the old ABA Kentucky Colonels reflects Chase's longtime love of that squad. He was a hardcore ABA fan and fondly recalls the above-the-rim exploits, colorful personalities — and big afros—of Julius Erving and Darnell Hillman.
"We're also improving the Web site (musiccitystars.com) and support staff," he said. "We're seeking a larger media presence and working hard to make sure people recognize that the Music City Stars have some wonderful players, including plenty of people they've already enjoyed seeing play before."
The current roster includes former Belmont University stars Boomer Herndon and Adam Sonn, Vanderbilt favorites Mario Moore and Ronnie McMahan and Cumberland's Delory Young. But Chase admits the Stars lost a big piece of the puzzle when ex-Tennessee State University mainstay Josh Cooperwood signed with an Egyptian team.
"That's one of the things we're fighting right there," Chase said. "We want to reach a point where we can offer our players a solid enough fiscal setting so they don't want to or have to sign with foreign teams."
Space to grow
His activism extends into league activities. While acknowledging that at some point down the line he'd like to be ABA commissioner, Chase says a lot of other things have to happen first. But he's been part of an eight-member league-wide group that's brought some stability and rule changes to the sprawling 55-member entity, which will play more than 800 games coast-to-coast this season.
"Now teams have to play a full 30-game season to make the playoffs," Chase continued. "We're going to have a final series that matches the best in the East and West in a three-game, home and home playoff with the games being played on the sites of the teams, creating a real home-court advantage and making the regular season mean something."
Though there's no ABA rule against signing high school players, Chase says that he encourages any high school student who qualifies for college to pursue their education.
"I'm a big proponent of education and opportunity," Chase said. "We don't want to be known as the league where kids come to avoid going to school. But if there's someone who comes to us and says he doesn't want to attend school for even that one year, and he's thinking about going to Europe, then we're willing to talk with that person. However, I will always tell them to go to school first."
Still he sees a bigger, better league.
"My vision for the ABA is to see it become a league where all 55 teams are working together for a collective vision rather than 55 clubs each going their separate way," Chase said. "Nashville makes the ideal model for us, because ultimately we want to have more teams in cities that size, playing in places that can hold 3,000 to 5,000 people rather than in some of the smaller towns where you're in high school gymnasiums."
Chase admits that's a future to ponder, but his focus in on the present.
"Right now, my energy and time's concentrated on my franchises, and especially making sure that the Music City Stars continue to grow and become a fixture in Nashville."