Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography Provided by TOPPLevel Photo
As the saying goes, “What’s old becomes new again,” and such is the case for the resurrected American Basketball Association (ABA), a men’s professional basketball league that existed from 1967 to 1976 until the ABA merged with the National Basketball Association (NBA). The ABA relaunched in 2000 and now has 150 teams across the United States, Mexico, Australia and the Bahamas. In 2018, local business owners Tyrone and Deborah Brown started a franchise in Hendricks County when they launched the Indiana Lyons. Little did they know that a global pandemic would surface in two years. Nevertheless, they didn’t let that or any other hurdle deter them.
Last year they followed the guidance of the Hendricks County Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which included reducing crowd size by two-thirds, requiring masks, doing temperature checks, and distancing everyone by 6’. They never did have to cancel a game. Best of all, patrons continued to support them.
“It was a challenge but also an opportunity for us to have a season with no setbacks,” Tyrone Brown says.
They currently have no restrictions or mandates, though that is subject to change at any time. Navigating the unknown has been the most challenging part of growing this ball club.
“We haven’t had a road to follow, but that just means we’ve been able to create our own road,” Brown says. “I think we’ve done a good job, but we can do better. We always try to set a tone of excellence.”
The Indiana Lyons are the 2021 ABA North Central Region champions, having ended their regular season last year at 20-4.
“It was our first divisional championship,” Brown says. “That’s an accomplishment. That win made us feel like our work was not in vain.”
Though a lot of people still aren’t aware that the Lyons exist, as word has spread, community support has swelled, leading to more fans. The Browns know each face that comes through the doors because they engage with fans at every game.
“My wife is at the door 99% of the time taking tickets,” Brown says. “We go into the crowd and introduce ourselves and say hello, especially if you’re new. We make sure someone from our organization comes over and speaks to you. We recognize that people can be anywhere on a Saturday at 5 p.m., so for them to come visit us, we think that’s special. We want to make sure they feel special when they come into the Lyons’ den.”
They have a motto: “Once you enter the Lyons’ den, you’re part of the family.” Their top priority is ensuring that it remain a safe, fun, friendly environment. If there is an issue or concern, fans know who to go to.
“If we had to stop a basketball game to address a major issue, we would do that,” Brown says. “We are responsible for the Lyons, for what comes in and goes out.”
Last season they offered reduced rates for season ticket pricing and created more group tickets, simply because they knew economic times have been tough for many.
“We worked hard to make sure we included our seasoned and new fans,” Brown says. “We’re a giving organization and will not turn anyone away. If someone is struggling and wants to get a ticket to a game, reach out to us and we will make sure to accommodate you.”
This season the Lyons appointed Indianapolis native Jamarr Kegler as the new head coach. Due to COVID-19, this year the team did not hold typical tryouts, as they didn’t want to bring 200 to 300 men together into one space. This year’s team will consist of both returning and new players, ranging in age from 18 to 36.
Seeing their vision for the team come to fruition has been a blessing for the Browns. They have especially enjoyed witnessing the growth of the players, both on and off the court.
“I like to see them grow into entrepreneurs and businessmen,” Brown says. “I like to see them embrace adversity.”
The goal is to get them noticed by scouts so they may be recruited by other professional leagues. For instance, hometown hero Dillon Ware graduated from Danville High School two years ago and has a great shot of going pro.
“We play with the 24-second shot clock, 12-minute quarters and 48-minute games,” Brown says. “Playing in an NBA fashion allows scouts to see that talent.”
The Browns also enjoy watching the camaraderie that develops amongst the players, a few of whom have been with the team since its inception such as Mike Pugh, Mike Carter, Preston Case, and Kendric Lee.
“Those four guys are fan favorites,” says Brown, noting that spectators travel from Illinois and Kentucky to watch them play.
Since they began streaming games, people have watched from Florida, Georgia, Texas and elsewhere. The organization’s leaders decided to stream games in order to give people an opportunity to see the action if they can’t make it to the games in person. It also helps to attract sponsorships. Every dollar earned goes back into player development as there are travel, lodging and equipment expenses.
“Streaming gives us a chance to advertise our products and be seen by a larger audience, and to also be taken seriously that this is a semi-pro team in Hendricks County,” Brown says. “We can’t go into every restaurant and store and hand out a business card, but through our streaming we might be able to reach more people.”
Of course, they prefer in-person fans because players can get a boost in performance with people there cheering for them. Fans can also interact with the players as they take time after games to take pictures and sign autographs. Sometimes they even allow fans into the locker room for the pregame speech. In addition they have ball boys, who engage in pregame activities.
“Going forward, we would like to get more young folks involved, from concession to greeters,” Brown says. “We’d like to get them off their tablets and cell phones and involved in the games.”
In the off-season, the Lyons host various youth sports camps where registrants are taught life, sporting and mentorship skills.
“We want to be humble servants, serving the community in every facet of what we do on a daily basis,” Brown says.
The Indiana Lyons play at the historic Bosstick Gym, located at 49 North Wayne Street in Danville. The facility seats 1,000 people, and the Browns would like to see it at full capacity.
“When players go into a gym and see that many people supporting them, that makes them feel like there’s nothing they can’t accomplish,” Brown says. “It also sends a signal to our opponent that this community is behind this team.”
If you’re looking for a fun way to spend a few hours on the weekend, come check out the Lyons. Parking is free. Concessions and merchandise are affordable. Fans can have a lot of fun for under $20.
“We make sure everyone has a good time, win or lose, from the initial inception into the arena until the time they leave,” Brown says. “I think people will be surprised at the skill level and talent that’s associated with the Indiana Lyons.”
This year the team will play a total of 25 games (14 at home and 11 on the road). For information about community programs, sponsorships, special nights, alumni games, internships and game-day opportunities, contact Tyrone Brown at email@example.com, and visit indianalyons.com.