KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The Kalamazoo Pure did the unthinkable. As a first-year, small-market team in the American Basketball Association they made it to the national championship. However their title hopes may be dashed, permanently. Owner Rico White left the team days ago for a job in Las Vegas. And the team said he left amid a flurry of questions and lies.
“The original purpose of the Pure, we were lied to," said former team account executive William Kelly. "I mean and told the direction was to become the development team of the [Chicago] Bulls, which you know we found that was just you know one of many lies."
Kelly worked with the team since its inception in the spring of 2015. He and a few other people were hired to be the front office of the Pure. But by December all had left.
“We kept getting lied to as far as being on contract,” said Kelly. “Just the whole set up of the business, it just never happened. I know mine personally um I never got paid even so to this day and I’m well aware of you know a lot of staff members didn’t get paid and a lot of disgruntled employees.”
Kelly said he's owed between $5,000-$10,000. He worked hard to bring in revenue for the team through sponsorship deals. But White rarely, if ever, came through on his end of the bargain. Even making sponsorship banners never happened. So, Kelly quit the team in December.
“I couldn’t be that middle man you know getting disgruntled sponsors you know wondering why things aren’t happening,” said Kelly. “I'm in the middle just kind of like fighting for him. It's out of my hands. I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Kelly has since pursued legal action against White and the team. He said he was not shocked though when he found out that White left the team days before the championship. Players said White announced during a recent team meeting about him taking the job in Vegas. He made no mention of the money owed to the them.
“First it stated that we were semi-professional basketball players. That, in some entity, that we would be getting paid,” said point guard Khandel Bell about the player contracts. “Then that was reiterated to us that basically we were somewhat of a club and that we didn’t have enough sponsorship to fund the budget for us, you know in some sort. So that basically was a slap in the face.”
Bell said it was during the middle of the season when he noticed things were off. The team went from playing at the Wings Event Center in front of near-capacity crowds to a local college where a handful of people showed up. They didn’t have a consistent practice facility. Practice gear was still an issue. Questions about transportation and money for food weren’t getting answered. So they confronted White.
“It was just a deflection,” Bell said about White's answers. “Either somebody else in the management was suppose to be taking care of it or he would just wing us off with something.”
Bell said players were frustrated with White. Players and staff made many sacrifices throughout the year to make the team successful.
“We all took time from our families you know our loved ones and stuff like that,” said Bell. “You know we took a lot of hardship you know taking the time out to actually you know do this for the community.”
When FOX 17 called White for a response to the team's allegations, he refuted everything. He said “no money was made and no money was stolen.” He still has creditors to deal with. He and his wife “were offered jobs in Vegas.” That’s the main reason why he left.
The championship is next week. According to a few players and leagues sources, White called the ABA and allegedly dissolved the team Thursday afternoon. When FOX 17 called White again to confirm, he did not answer. Bell said the team is upset by his actions though because they really wanted to represent Kalamazoo in the big game.
“The fact that we’re out here really trying hard trying to get to Texas you know it's just a slap in the face to us,” said Bell. “We were told all we had to do was win games and everything will follow. And we held our bargain.”