25 years of Leopards – season 5

It was a case of after the Lord Mayor’s Show for Leopards as the 1998/99 season saw them fail to get close to the success of the previous two campaigns. After chucking money at their team with little success, Manchester Giants decided to sign the core of Leopards’ title winning side with John White, Makeba and John White making the move north. Giants failed in their attempt to sign captain Robert Youngblood, but Brian Moore was the only other player to return from the previous season’s title-winning side. Eric Burks’ dreams of an NBA job were ruined by the dispute between franchise owners and the players’ union, and the guard returned to the Big Cats early in the season. Club owner Ed Simons was clearly disappointed with Giants’ pillaging his team, commenting that he’d thought that one day the Leopards might be a feeder club, but he’s hoped it would to an NBA franchise rather than Giants. He must have consoled by Giants again finishing the season with an empty trophy cabinet.
While the return of Burks definitely improved the side, he couldn’t prevent a heart-break defeat against Sheffield Sharks in the National Cup final, with Chris Finch’s team again having home court advantage in the title game. The signing of guard Rashod Johnson sparked the team and Leopards eventually finished eighth in the table, five wins clear of ninth placed Edinburgh Rocks. Champions Sharks were shocked in game one of the play-offs but Finch’s team won both home games to progress to Wembley for the final four.
The season saw more games at the Brentwood Centre as new landlords London Knights ice hockey team proved difficult to work with, and a couple of games were also staged at Southend Leisure Centre as Leopards moved their training and accommodation to the Essex town.



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