At 6:30am this morning, my (nearly) four-month old baby stirred in his cot. I got up to check on him, and though he immediately went back to sleep, I knew he’d probably be waking up soon.
The Gold Coast basketball team have gone down in an inglorious and ironic blaze.
Short of supplying evidence of a bank guarantee of $1 million, detailed confirmation of ongoing funding and unconditional assurance that Basketball Australia would be paid outstanding debts, the club folded this week, leaving the NBL with a small but sound group of just eight.
The Blaze aren’t the first sports club on the glitzy coast to underwhelm with sketchy financials, nor will they likely be the last to ultimately fizzle. Perhaps the sunshine makes some accountants more optimistic than they should be.
But the pertinent question here isn’t what happened to the Blaze, but how does the NBL move forward?
To many in the media, there were already questions about the validity of the NBL as a ‘micro’ competition attempting to steal both fans and sponsors away from mass market entities like the NRL and AFL. This latest news simply fuelled their doubts about the league.
A headline that ran in The Sydney Morning Herald this week even insinuated that hoop greats Andrew Gaze and Steve Carfino were “fretting” over the Blaze’s demise. I’m quite certain while disappointed, neither is fretting right now. They’ve seen teams come and go, and still the NBL keeps on raining threes.
This raises the point that basketball fans shouldn’t care what the critics think. We know the sport has never commanded attention in Australia the way the NBA does in America, and yet it continues to have a passionate and loyal fan-base.
The game, despite what some cricket or tennis diehards will tell you, both deserves and can sustain a place on our summer sporting landscape. To this point, the greatest successes for the NBL have come from community-based initiatives where dedicated pockets of fans and players have gathered to support the game with all the fervour of a Globetrotters crowd.
The Wollongong Hawks, for example, continue to be a shining example of how the sport can be embraced by smaller communities who value a good product that connects with them. The Cairns Taipans are another. Even the Sydney Kings, who play in the country’s largest market, have similarly tapped into the city’s localised basketball wells to rejuvenate its once potent brand.
So when we think about what Basketball Australia might do to reignite the league after this recent dousing, I’d suggest its reviewing and considering those towns with a strong basketball tradition for new NBL licenses. I’m talking about the places where crowds once collected every weekend – without prompting – to cheer for their squad against the mighty Gaze-led Tigers, or D-Train-charged Kings.
BA needs to hone in on those former brands like Canberra’s Cannons, Geelong’s Supercats and Hobart’s Devils, and realise there are sports fans in those areas who would cherish a return to top flight basketball.
The league doesn’t need glamorous locales or mock-Miami Heat style uniforms to win patrons. It just needs a strong on-court product, which it’s already building towards, and the support of people who genuinely enjoy the game and want it to succeed.