Ian Reid, until now, has been the last Oddball left standing.

When a three-man consortium was formed to bring professional basketball to Edinburgh 20 years ago to this month, the then-banker was one of the triumvirate injecting both cash and ideas, initially to procure a franchise, and then to convert concept into reality before what would become the Rocks took the court at Meadowbank in September of 1998.

The Oddballs in Sport – as the grouping was legally entitled – would, within 18 months, become one man’s fight against the tide. Midway through the club’s second season, the projected sums simply did not add up. The threat of fatal liquidation was perilously real.

“It was extremely close,” Reid recounts. “We were almost flat-lining. But out of adversity the Rocks continued. We had various guises, from Meadowbank to moving to Braehead, to the Kelvin Hall and now the Emirates Arena.”

If not for the controversial relocation to Glasgow, the Rocks may have long since crumbled. “The Council there wouldn’t invest any more money in Meadowbank and didn’t know what they were going to do with it. That was 16 years ago and they still don’t know what to do with it.

“We had some tremendous support in Edinburgh and some of the most raucous crowds we had were there. But would we have survived? It wasn’t a place that you could take sponsors to and say: ‘this is where we play, isn’t it great?’ We can do that at the Emirates. It looks fantastic.’ We’re in a better situation now than we ever were there.”

Buoyant enough that Reid is departing, satisfied that what was once a sickly patient will remain in good health even without his day-to-day involvement or his financial acumen. Having sold his share to businessman Duncan Smillie earlier this month, he has cleared out his office and instead channelled energies into planning an extended holiday with his wife Celeste, freed of the incessant duties that come from nurturing a team in a sport where each penny is fought for and every pound gladly received.

“There are times when it has been extremely stressful for me and my family – that’s something I won’t miss,” he admits. “But now feels like the right time to step back. I’d always said my criteria were MCC: M for motivation, which Duncan’s got. The C was for community because we’re a community-facing club. And the other C is or Continuity. Will be be around the long-term? Absolutely, he will be. He wants to put a lot into it. I think he’ll have more time to put in than I ever had. So I feel good times are just around the corner.”

An argument which is easy to say but, cynically, easy to keep repeating in the hope that such optimism might eventually not be misplaced. Basketball – for all the evidence of youth participation, of the reflected glitter of an increasingly-prominent NBA, of demographic shifts generating British talent – remains an outlier awaiting the call of the mainstream.

That breakthrough seemed tantalisingly close at the time of the Rocks birth, when several clubs were playing in large arenas, bankrolled by wealthy investors expecting a sizeable return from sponsors eager to jump aboard.

“Then we went through a substantial downturn and all the clubs that have survived that are much more community-facing now,” Reid acknowledged. “Which I think has been excellent for the sport, even if it’s been a hard process. But within the last few months, we’ve seen a deal to stream every game live. BBC involvement. And the added bonus of the deal with Barry Hearn and Matchroom. I don’t believe the league’s been in a better position over the past ten years.”

That he should flag up the community aspect is unsurprising. Reid, who was awarded the OBE for services to young people six years ago, will also retire this summer as chair of Scottish Sports Futures, the charity he masterminded which – using the Rocks as its primary vehicle – takes basketball into schools and youth projects with a mission to overturn disadvantage and to preach messages of hope.

“We’ve introduced over 100,000 kids to basketball, some of whom are now playing at a high level,” he says. “But it wasn’t about producing elite players. It was about giving kids a better chance in life and teaching them transferable skills. That will be my main memory.”

Not, I ask, the 2003 BBL Playoff title – the lone trophy the Rocks secured during his tenure? Right up there, he smiles. Further adversity, then survival. “All the pundits said there was one team that couldn’t win and that was us. During that run, from sixth place in the league, we beat the Cup holders, the Trophy holders and the league champions. That’s something to be proud of.”

This article originally appeared in The Herald

Photo: SSF

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