Puerto Rico’s Pro Basketball League Sees a Rebirth

Aug 22, 2023
1:57 PM

Héctor Horta, owner of the 2023 champions Gigantes de Carolina, holds the Baloncesto Superior Nacional’s championship trophy.

Thirty minutes before tip-off, the Guillermo Angulo Coliseum in Carolina was already filled to capacity. Hundreds of fans saw the SOLD OUT sign at the ticket counter outside and decided to settle for watching the game on a big screen as cheerleaders hand out sponsored gifts.

Most of the attendees wore team jerseys and t-shirts, and anyone looking to buy one on the day of was out of luck, as the team store had been sold out for weeks. The fans gathered on that day, July 26, all knew something magical was happening, and they needed to be a part of it.

Unlike Boston, Los Angeles or Miami, Carolina isn’t a town known for its championship celebrations. In fact, one could argue that the atmosphere outside the arena is more electric than what Celtics and Lakers fans are used to.

The crowd erupted with pure ecstasy as the final buzzer sounded, capping the Gigantes de Carolina’s 80-60 win over perennial rivals the Vaqueros de Bayamón in Game 5 of the Final Brava.

Carolina’s home team is now the reigning champions of the Baloncesto Superior Nacional (BSN), Puerto Rico’s top-tier professional basketball team.

The Gigantes had been out of the league for 12 years, returning in only in 2021. But with new owner Héctor Horta —plus a little serendipity— Carolina is now celebrating a title more than 50 years in the making.

Horta, a local businessman and lifelong sports fan, first met with BSN President Ricardo Dalmau to discuss owning a team three years ago. He was given the option of acquiring a new expansion team or having conversations with current owners who might be interested in selling their teams. Knowing the initial player talent pool would be inferior for an expansion franchise, Horta preferred the second option.

He approached the owner of the Cariduros de Fajardo, Félix “Felo” Rivera, who was willing to sell with the stipulation that the team stay in Fajardo. Due to family and work obligations, Horta was unable to make that commitment, but both agreed to talk again if a deal with another prospective owner couldn’t be reached.

Less than two months before the start of the 2020-2021 season, the conversations picked up again, once Rivera’s other offers fell through. Horta purchased the team and ultimately decided on relocating to Carolina, east of San Juan on the northeast coast.

“I remember watching a finals game in Carolina years ago, and how passionate the fans were,” he told Latino Rebels. “We planned on building a foundation and competing for a title there within five years.”

For Gigantes fans, the move to Carolina gave them back their team, and a proud franchise founded in 1971 was given a second chance to bring its fans a title they so badly wanted.

The original five-year plan consisted of making the playoffs within the first three seasons and then having a playoff-tested roster ready to win two years later.  After struggling in their debut season, the Gigantes made the playoffs in year two.

How did Carolina win a title so quickly? “A combination of things, really,” Horta said. “We were hungry to get a title for these fans. They brought an amazing energy every single game, and our guys fed off it. We had the right players and the right coach.”

Led by Puerto Rico National Team players Tremont Waters and George Conditt, along with Michael James Scott, Yomar Cruz and the rest of the talented roster, the hard work finally paid off this year with a championship win.

The BSN’s rebirth is due in large part to the vision and leadership of new ownership in the last few years. Horta, musicians Bad Bunny and Ozuna, and ex-baseball star Yadier Molina, among others, have made an impact on their respective teams. Once-failing franchises that struggled to get more than a few hundred fans in their arenas —like Benito’s Cangrejeros de Santurce— are now enjoying sellouts games and record ratings.

“These owners are bringing new ideas, along with years of success within their respective fields,” Horta explained. “We understand it’s not just a game, it’s entertainment. We’re giving the fans what they want.”

The league has always helped local players showcase their talents and build their résumés for other opportunities in the off-season. In recent years, though, the league has also been a place for foreign players to revive their NBA careers.

This past season, Guaynabo’s DeMarcus Cousins, Santurce’s David Knight, and Quebradilla’s Hassan Whiteside and Brandon Knight were among the players who previously enjoyed varying levels of success in the mainland—Cousins being a four-time NBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist.

The league has become so dynamic that even Lebron James, considered the greatest active basketball player —if not the greatest of all time— showed up in person to watch Carolina and Bayamón face off in the final.

“We have a great nucleus and the greatest fans in the league,” Horta said. “We know it’s going to take a lot of work, and a little luck too, but we want to win the title again.”

And Gigantes fans will be happy to know that the team website and its store at Plaza Carolina have been stocked with new merchandise and jerseys are available again—only this time emblazoned with the championship logo.


Rafael Riera is a screenwriter and producer born and raised in Puerto Rico and currently living in Los Angeles. He is working on his first novel and is not allowed to talk politics with friends and family.