KALAMAZOO, Mich. — When Amber Duncan left the Kalamazoo Pure last Fall, she didn’t expect to return. Duncan was vice president of marketing and sales and said she enjoyed working with the players. However there were problems within the front office that prompted her to walk out the door one week before the season began.
“I started to feel like there just wasn’t something right within the organization,” said Duncan. “Whatever that was at the time, was the business at the time and I’m just going to leave that behind.”
What she and other front office staffers left behind was a mismanaged team, players said. The Pure was southwest Michigan’s first pro-basketball team. They rose to the top of the American Basketball Association and even made it to the national championship in Laredo, TX. But players and former employees said their owner at the time Rico White left them for a job in Las Vegas, days before the big game. They said he departed and never paid anyone during the season: players, staff members and referees.
“He hadn’t shown his face for a while,” said shooting guard Donte Hudson. “We knew something bad was going to happen eventually. But we were just hoping that it didn’t affect us.”
Hudson said a handful of guys made it to the game regardless of the turmoil. The players remained a tight-knit family but lost in the championship.
Days later, Duncan said she received a phone call that would change everything.
“The president of the ABA contacted me after the falling out with the Kalamazoo Pure and asked what my interest was in owning the team,” said Duncan. “It kind of stung since I left the team. These were my guys. This was my team. So when he offered it to me, it didn’t take any thought.”
The Paw Paw native gladly accepted the position of owner on April 8 and she immediately changed the name to the Cobras. Her vision, she expressed to the players, was to leave the troubles in the past and focus on the team in the future.
“These guys ranked 8th out of 92 in the nation with the ABA,” Duncan said. “The American Basketball Association is the largest growing professional organization in the United States at this point. So these guys deserved so much of the positive limelight that they really didn’t get.”
The players agreed were thrilled too when Duncan took over.
“When I heard new management was coming in I was actually excited about it,” said Hudson. “I wanted to see what Amber had going on as far as supporting us and helping us get back on our feet.”
Duncan, a mother of four, said she’s now working around the clock to bring back old sponsors that dropped the team. She’s in meetings non-stop, from sun up to sun down, laying out details to clients like jersey and program sponsorship.
“I reached out to pretty much everybody that was a sponsor last year, just rebuilding relationships,” said Duncan. “Letting them know that we are going to go on. We’re going to continue forward. We’re going to do the best that we can to put anyone that does sponsor with us, in a good limelight.”
Currently on her to-do list is securing a venue for the team and she’s got a few places in mind. Ultimately, she wants to turn the spotlight back on the players and not on the past.
“I just have to make it go forward in a positive direction,” said Duncan. “Its the only option we have at this point. I feel like these guys deserve it. They worked very, very hard. They’re all very very awesome, not just players, but people within the community.”