A push is on to resurrect the Yakima Sun Kings, a championship minor-league basketball team that played there in the 1990s and later in the 2000s.
YAKIMA — As a teenager, Jose Campos would go, along with thousands of others, to the Yakima Valley SunDome to watch professional basketball.
A decade later Campos is part of an effort to resurrect the Yakima Sun Kings, a championship minor-league basketball team that played here in the 1990s and the 2000s.
The team is still being put together, and the 2018 schedule with the North American Premier Basketball League is being worked out.
But Campos and others predict professional basketball will bring visitors — and their wallets — to Yakima in the dead of winter, plus give Yakima residents an amenity that’s been missing for nearly a decade.
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Yakima’s experience with professional basketball began in 1990, when the Continental Basketball Association’s Topeka Sizzlers became the Yakima Sun Kings and began playing at the SunDome. The team won league championships in 1995 and 2000 before the CBA shut down after the 2000-01 season.
The Sun Kings returned in 2003 in the revived CBA and were bought by the Yakama Nation in 2005 and renamed the Yakama Sun Kings. They won back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007.
But in April 2008, the Yakama Nation’s Tribal Council voted to shut the team down because it was losing money.
Rich Austin, who was general manager of the Sun Kings from 2005 to 2006, said the team’s departure was difficult.
“There has been a great hole in the community ever since,” said Austin, who is now the director of sports development for the Yakima Valley Sports Commission.
But word came this year that the hole would be filled.
In late September, NAPB President and CEO David Magley announced that Yakima would be among the first six cities represented in the newly formed league. The others were Seattle; Kansas City, Missouri; Owensboro, Kentucky; and Rochester and Albany, New York.
Magley said Yakima was a natural choice for a league franchise, based on the Sun Kings’ 17-year run in the city as a CBA team and the fan support it enjoyed.
Shortly after the announcement, Campos and his brother, Jaime, started to look into buying the team. A friend put them in touch with the league, and after a quick meeting the brothers became basketball-team owners.
Campos, who also owns the Happy Time recreational-marijuana store in Yakima, declined to say how much he paid for the team, but Magley said earlier this year that teams would initially cost $200,000.
While the Yakama Nation lost money on the team, Campos sees the Sun Kings as a way to invest in the community, especially youths.
“I feel we will bring back community involvement,” Campos said. “We want the kids to see that there is a professional basketball team in the area, and that instead of going out partying, they can go to a basketball game.”
He also envisions the team working with youth through anti-bullying efforts in the schools, and volunteering at the Yakima Police Activities League.
He sees the players as role models who can inspire kids to one day play professional basketball, even in Yakima.
The current Sun Kings roster already includes one local player. Joel Yellow Owl, who played for White Swan and Zillah high schools and later for Oregon Tech, has agreed to join the Sun Kings.
Campos and others say the league will have some benefits for the economy, including creating jobs.
Business manager Josh Meadows, of Selah, said that while there are only so many jobs on the team, there will be a bit of a ripple effect, starting with vendors working concessions at the SunDome during games.
The team will also bring about 16 extra days of events to the SunDome, which is typically booked for about 120 days a year with various activities, said State Fair Park President and General Manager Greg Stewart.
And Austin, the sports-commission director, said people who come to Yakima for the games are likely to visit local restaurants and motels while they’re in town.
Campos said they expect 2,000 to 4,000 people to attend games, which should be a boost to businesses during a typical down time after the Christmas holiday.
Some argue that professional sports may not be the economic slam-dunk that people believe. Temple University economist Michael Leeds, who co-authored the book “The Economics of Sports,” studied Chicago and determined that sports represented less than 1 percent of the Windy City’s economy.
But Sun Kings supporters say there are benefits not easily measured in ledger books. Verlynn Best, president and CEO of the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce, said professional sports teams, such as the Sun Kings and the Yakima Valley Pippins baseball team, add to the city’s quality of life by providing family-oriented entertainment. And that could influence a company to decide to locate to the city, or prospective employees to accept job offers here rather than somewhere else.
“(Bringing back the Sun Kings) was something I was excited to see,” Best said.
While Best is not comfortable with Campos’ marijuana business, she commended him and his brother for being willing to take the risk to buy the Sun Kings.