The Perth Wildcats only had seven opponents during the just-finished NBL season, and they had two players who contributed over half their total offence in every category.
These two also contributed about one third of their defence.
This is not to decry the efforts of Damian Martin, Shawn Redhage, Matt Knight, Drake U’u or anyone else who suited up for the Cats – they were magnificent. It is just the lengths that Nick Marvin and Jack Bendat, that amazing benefactor of sport in Western Australia, had to go to to win a title.
Perth hasn’t exactly been the first port of call for imports or top-calibre Australian talent in recent years. They’ve played with large local content, drawn some fiercely loyal red-shirted support and held it.
Getting Jermaine Beal and James Ennis was a coup of monumental proportions. And winning was the solitary goal. That they averaged over 10,000 paying customers in home games didn’t hurt them either, but then the Perth Arena is some place to party! And like the Australian Baseball League, if you look after your imports, the organisation they are affiliated with in the USA will pay you back in kind.
The NBL is not what it was when Kerry Stokes and Bob Williams started the amazing takeover of night time sports in Western Australia with a Wildcats team led by Cal Bruton, and luminaries like the incredibly consistent James Crawford, Too Tall Tiny Pinder, Ricky Grace, Steve Davis et al. 12-team leagues were common. They actually had national league basketball going from 1983 – four years before the AFL.
Where have teams such as the Canberra Cannons, the Geelong SuperCats, the Hobart Tassie Devils, the North Melbourne Giants, the South East Melbourne Magic, the Brisbane Bullets, the St Kilda Saints and many others gone?
What are Mike Ellis, Brian Goorjian, Bobby Turner, Herb McEachin, Brian Kerle, Phil Smyth, Leroy Loggins, Andrew Gaze and his dad Lindsay doing? They’re smiling at the job Trevor Gleeson, Joey Wright, Chris Anstey, Alan Black and others are doing to rejuvenate this league. They’re watching and listening and having input and working behind the scenes.
When Andrew Bogut has a night out, Aaron Baynes lays one in, Patty Mills leads the San Antonio backcourt to another win, Matt Delavedova connects from downtown, we think back to Luc Longley and the Chicago Bulls and three titles. We think back to people who rarely get a mention these days like Shane Heal, Darnell Mee, Dave Anderson and others who forged a path to the NBA that will always remain.
Will the NBL ever be as great as the 80s and 90s? Maybe not in the same way, but the NBL has plans for expansion which hopefully will draw NBA teams in the same way baseball has down under. It’s a clean, sharp, well-run league with over 2 million Australian players and supporters in male and female competition.
Basketball is played in every school, in every city, day and night and it will always be the same. Anyone can toss a basketball through a hoop, and that’s the attraction. Everyone can get a workout. Everyone can join a team. Everyone can support their state league team.
The Perth Wildcats got lucky for the umpteenth time. One of the great franchises in Australian sporting history was established as a powerhouse in the early 1980s and in 1990 won their first title. They now have six and are targeting 20 consecutive years of making the playoffs. Incredible!
I was lucky enough to be a part of that 1985/86 resurgence sparked by Bob Williams and Kerry Stokes, and later chaperoned by Jack Bendat. Those were the days when sporting editors across the country put basketball next to the death notices. I wrote for three papers in Perth under different names to get the Wildcats some press. Every paper, TV station and radio station got reports from me.
For two years I slogged away before Cal, Kerry, JC and the boys took over and went on a magical mystery tour of the continent. And I for one believe basketball in Australia can reach the heights it did in the halcyon days again… and very soon.
34,000 paying customers watched the grand final series in Adelaide (who did a fabulous job in the grand final series and throughout this year) and Perth, and millions caught some of the action on Fox Sports, the ABC and Fairfax Radio.
If that isn’t a basis for a greater number of franchises in the NBL, I’m not sure what is.