Jim Sims knows he has an uphill battle selling professional basketball in San Diego, but he’s on easy street compared to the time he spent coaching in Peru during the late 1970s.
The president of the city’s newest sports franchise, the Stingrays, recalls arriving in Lima in 1975 and being told of an 11 p.m. curfew, and how the military junta running the country strictly enforced it.
“If they caught you, they didn’t arrest you or order you off the streets. They just shot you,” remembers Sims, the former coach of both the Peruvian men’s and women’s Olympic teams.
Sims shows a videotape of one of his greatest triumphs as a coach, the 1977 South American women’s championship game, won by Peru over perennial powerhouse Brazil.
After the victory, Peru’s assistant coaches carry off a then much-darker and longer-haired Sims on their shoulders, amid an explosion of national pride and emotion spilling onto a court surrounded by helmeted militia.
Sims relished his time in Peru as its national coach. He made strong friendships, and received that nation’s highest sporting honor awarded to non-natives. But the risks of living in a country embroiled in political turmoil and violence weighed in his decision to leave.
At one point, Sims found himself facing a gunman who jumped out of the bushes just as he was going to enter his house. The would-be assassin was immediately shot by a Peruvian undercover agent who had been guarding Sims without his knowing it.
Shortly after that, Sims decided to return to the United States.
May Feel Safer
Today, Sims may feel safer, but given the history of professional basketball in San Diego, he can’t be feeling that secure.
Sims has heard all about the mistakes of this city’s past hoops teams. He’s well aware of the comings and goings of the Rockets, the Conquistadors, the Sails, the Clippers, and finally, the Wild Cards, which folded after playing about a dozen games.
He knows of the mistakes made by Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling, and is quick to point out, “my name is not Sterling.”
The team that Sims and his partners are organizing competes in an entirely new league, called the International Basketball League. It is made up of eight teams, including such former National Basketball Association cities as Cincinnati, Baltimore, St. Louis, and of course, San Diego.
It may not be the National Basketball Association, but the IBL isn’t minor league, says Sims.
“If there were a few more teams in the NBA, these players would be in it.”
Although pro basketball has never gained a foothold in San Diego, Sims says the population growth in recent years, the surging worldwide popularity of the sport, and a hardcore following led to establishing yet another franchise here.
2,000 Season Tickets
“There are still a tremendous amount of basketball fans here.”
To prove his point, Sims says the Stingrays have already sold more than 2,000 season tickets. The goal is the sale of 5,000 by the opening game on Nov. 26.
Ticket prices for Stingray games will range from $5 to $25, except for the floor seats that will go for $50.
As for the style of basketball, fans should expect an uptempo, fast-break team that will be high-scoring and fun to watch, says the Stingrays head coach, Smokey Gaines, who coached the SDSU Aztecs basketball team from 1979 to 1987.
“We’re going to be running,” says Gaines. “Basketball is supposed to be a speed game, and that’s what we’ll be playing. I believe in playing good defense, giving the ball up and scoring on fast breaks with lots of dunks.”
Sims has spent much of his life in and around basketball, and has experience on the high school, collegiate, international and professional level.
He began his coaching career at his alma mater, Penn State-Edinboro. Besides working as the assistant basketball and head baseball coach at the then-1,500-student college, he also worked as the assistant dean of men, director of housing, and assistant in admissions.
Didn’t Speak Spanish
From Edinboro, Sims taught and coached at Keystone Oaks High School in Pittsburgh, and then took an assistant’s job at Duquesne University, a Division I program in Pittsburgh.
His good friend, Chuck Daly, the former coach of the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic, told him about the Peruvian national job, and Sims was interested. The biggest impediment was that he didn’t speak Spanish.
No matter to the fast learner, who holds masters and doctorate degrees in secondary school administration.
Upon arriving in Peru, Sims began learning the language from his players, who forced him to learn by not speaking English, and making him speak Spanish as much as possible.
Coaching in Peru was a fabulous experience, but Sims yearned to return home. He got a head coaching job at Penn State-Behrend (near Eire, Pa.), and then returned to Edinboro for another coaching stint.
From there Sims worked as a scout for the NBA Pistons, and Daly, who retired as coach of the Magic after last season.
In 1989, Sims started a consulting business, working with companies and management, teaching them how to get the most out of their employees.
He also opened a restaurant called Duke’s Station in Pittsburgh with his son, Jimmy , a rib joint that was created in two converted railroad cars. He and Jimmy have since opened another eatery in Steel City.
‘Really My Calling’
Sims says his decision to stop coaching and switch to consulting was one of the better moves he’s ever made.
“It dawned on me that coaching people in the business world to help them be successful was really my calling.”
Among Sims’ clients have been the H.J. Heinz Co., Keebler Co., and U.S. Steel Group.
Dick Versace, former assistant coach of the Pistons, head coach of the Indiana Pacers and network basketball commentator, calls Sims an affable, likeable guy who has a knack for communicating what he expects from people, and getting them to accomplish their goals.
“He has wonderful motivating skills. He has a way of getting you to do the best that you can. He doesn’t intimidate you, but he gets his ideas across, and you end up doing the job, and all the while, feeling good about it,” says Versace, who runs a sports consulting business based in Chicago.
Bill Tosheff, the Stingrays chief operating officer who formerly worked as an assistant for the failed Wildcards, says the things this franchise is doing to build a fan base is a real contrast to what was done by the last franchise.
Besides lining up key corporate sponsorships and radio broadcast of games, the team is reaching out to the community, getting the word out that pro basketball is back, and it’s worth taking a look, Tosheff says.
Sims echoes those comments, saying fans who give the Stingrays a look won’t be disappointed.
“People who come to our games are going to be entertained. They’re going to have fun. When they walk out (after the game) they’re going to say, ‘I really enjoyed myself.'”