Audley Stephenson is awarded a five year ring for faithful service to NBL Canada...
It’s nearly midnight, but the coffee’s on in the coach’s office, where some late brainstorming is going on in preparation for the next day’s game. Meanwhile, Audley Stephenson is breaking down that very same match-up, writing a preview that will soon be posted on the National Basketball League of Canada website.
The sun is starting to creep above the horizon, providing just enough light for the custodian to unlock the arena and begin sweeping up the remnants of last night’s thrilling comeback victory for the home team. Stephenson’s already finished cutting a highlight video of the game’s winning shot and the celebration that followed.
Driving hard to the hoop and throwing down a vicious one-hand jam, the star player stakes his team to an early lead against their division rivals. Stephenson tweets about the play, the first of many game updates he’ll post across social media over the next couple hours.
And if the score is tied after four quarters, well, let’s just say, he has no problem working overtime.
“’Early mornings, late nights’ is what my M.O. has been,” says Stephenson. “I’m committed to it, I really am. For me, it’s always been, whatever needs to get done, if it’s for the benefit of the league, then that’s what I do.”
That’s what he’s been doing since Day One in NBLC, which recently tipped off its sixth season with 10 teams spread across the Maritimes and Ontario. During a ceremony at a London Lightning game on Jan. 14, Stephenson was presented with a custom ring recognizing his five years with Canada’s most successful pro hoops league.
“It’s a pretty big deal for me because of what it represents,” he says. “It represents a lot of hard work.”
From online content and social media to publicity and promotions, it’s easier to list the few things Stephenson doesn’t do for NBLC, rather than the gamut of roles he fills on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, and yes, year-to-year, basis.
“As much as I want to say it’s all of my hard work, in all honesty there have been a lot of people that have helped and contributed ... there are a lot of people that are part of this journey for me,” he says. “When I look at what the ring symbolizes, there are a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication; a lot of trial, a lot of error, and a lot of learning lessons.”
Energetic and infectious, Stephenson has in many respects become the face of NBLC. But his relationship with the league started fairly innocuously a little more than five years ago during its inaugural season.
At the time, Stephenson co-hosted a popular podcast that covered the NBA, but in the fall of 2011, the NBA was in a prolonged work stoppage, giving Stephenson time to check out the NBLC. He quickly fell in love with the league, impressed by the quality of play as well as the speed and athleticism of the players, and decided to transfer his podcast to the NBLC. He began covering games and interviewing players, making such an impression that the league flew him out to Halifax to work the first NBL Canada All-Star Game.
“In the early days, the founders essentially gave me a green light to do whatever I wanted,” recalls Stephenson. “I really got to learn and develop and try things I've never done before because they gave me this opportunity. They said, 'Sure, go and do what you think' and that really made a difference for me.”
Stephenson’s involvement with the league continued to expand, and by 2014, his role had become much what it is today, a jack-of-all-trades whose impact is not just at the league level, but with each of the individual teams.
“It really starts with my belief in what the league is trying to accomplish and passion for the sport itself, because that was a sport that I played as a kid ... so the sport is a part of me and to see that it has an opportunity to grow in Canada and be on the forefront excites me,” Stephenson says.
“So you take that passion and couple it with something that has never been done before; an all-Canadian league at this level. We’re six years in and it’s a very real thing. So just to get an opportunity to come in at the ground level with something that is potentially ground-breaking is quite exciting to me.”
In a sense, Stephenson and the NBLC have matured together. As the league has increased its number of teams and developed a reputation around the world as being a springboard for talented players, Stephenson has watched his son A.J. grow into an 11-year-old young man.
“He’s been a part of this journey as well. He was five when this league started, he knows what it’s about.” says Stephenson, who was proud to receive the ring in front of his son.
“For him to be able to see something like that, and the whole idea of what hard work symbolizes, all those sorts of things fit into what this ring is all about.”
For championship teams, the ring represents culmination of their goal. For Stephenson, it represents more of a beginning.
“It’s a proud moment and it feels good. The most important thing in all this is only five years; there is a lot more to come.”