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History lesson: National Lacrosse League
The National Lacrosse League is still considered a minor professional league in most parts of North America, but for its teams, players, and fans, the NLL ranks in the major leagues as far as heart and dedication are concerned. There are no major league salaries, team jets, or outlandish endorsement deals - just players who play the game for the love of the sport, and the fans who love them for it.
The origins of the NLL date back to 1986, when the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League was incorporated. One of the original members, the Philadelphia Wings, plays to this day and is one of the most successful franchises in the sport. In its first season in 1987, the indoor game - played in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New Jersey - drew nearly 125,000 fans, interested in checking out this new version of an old sport.
After the 1988 season, the league changed its name to the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. The MILL saw expansion to six teams in 1989, adding a seventh team to start the 1992 season. That seventh team, the Buffalo Bandits, went on to win the league championship, the first expansion team to take the title. The Bandits repeated as champs in 1993, becoming the second team to win back-to-back titles in the league; the other: the Wings, who the Bandits beat both seasons. The Bandits also became the first team in the league to sell out every regular season home game, and won 22 games in a row between the 1992 and 1994 seasons.
In 1997 the MILL went back to six teams, then faced post-season competition from a new league, the National Lacrosse League. The rivalry was short lived, however, as the two leagues merged into an eight-team league for the 1998 under the NLL banner. Many teams have come and gone in that time, with the league at a high of 13 teams in 2002 and again in 2007. The strongest teams over the years have been the Wings, the Bandits, and expansion teams the Rochester Knighthawks, the Toronto Rock (both of whom joined in 1998), and the Calgary Roughnecks (who joined in 2001).
Similar to many major sports, the NLL holds an annual draft and expansion drafts when necessary; the annual draft scouts out top college players. Unlike the major leagues, however, the players are considered "part-time," and they play games on weekends (Friday through Sunday) and often only practice once or twice a week. With part-time status comes part-time salary, and most NLL players have "day jobs" - for example, league record holder John Tavares(notes) of the Bandits is a high school teacher in Ontario, and as a player makes far less than his nephew, the other John Tavares of the NHL's New York Islanders.
Source: "Lax 101: League History," nll.com
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