Australia’s dreams of taking the gold medal at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup are over after they were defeated by Spain in a double-overtime semi-final.
Earlier this year the NBL again found itself in crisis. Ahead of tomorrow night’s tip-off, fans are now gearing up for the most anticipated season this century.
That’s not hyperbole. Any outsiders who have considered jumping on the NBL train but held back can now safely climb aboard.
One cause for optimism is the upward trend of the off-court product under new owner Larry Kestelman.
Fox Sports will broadcast every game live, Channel Nine is the new free-to-air partner, a portfolio of sponsors have been successfully courted and – after being doubtful during those crisis months – all eight teams are back.
Even the prospect of a returned Brisbane Bullets within the next 12 months is as alive as it has been for a long, long time.
With games on every night from Wednesday through to Saturday, the NBL isn’t just changing channels but rather changing its whole positioning as a TV product.
When everything hit the fan earlier this year, I said the NBL needed to take a bold risk to create a TV product that actually sucks people in. They’ve done it, and this particular approach is the best chance for the NBL to become habitual, routine viewing for sports fans that previously might watch one game a season – if that.
The on-court product shouldn’t be a mere sidenote to all this, either. Always in good shape, it too has improved over the winter.
NBA veteran Josh Childress re-signed with the Sydney Kings and will resume the role of league poster boy. A former NBA teammate of his, Hakim Warrick, will hopefully bring a comparable level of star power to Melbourne United.
Former league MVPs Kevin Lisch and Kirk Penney are back, signing with the Illawarra Hawks. Former All-NBL First Team members Chris Goulding (Melbourne), AJ Ogilvy (Illawarra) and Julian Khazzouh (Sydney) have signed up. Then there’s a very notable former rookie of the year back in Nathan Jawai, who’s linked up with the Perth Wildcats.
All told, there are 12 First Team appearances among those returning to the league this year. Among those leaving, there are only four appearances.
If that wasn’t enough, this year’s class of NBA hopefuls could also be quite notable. Australia is building a reputation as a viable, English-speaking ‘gap year’ destination for players early in their careers among general managers and player agents.
With Scottie Wilbekin going from the Cairns Taipans to Philadelphia 76ers during the off-season and James Ennis making a successful Perth pitstop in between his drafting and eventual signing by the Miami Heat, there will be a few hoping the make a similar jump this season.
Cairns signing Markel Starks and Melbourne’s Stephen Holt shared MVP honours at the pre-season Blitz. Sydney’s Marcus Thornton was taken at pick 45 by the Boston Celtics at this year’s NBA draft.
The change in personnel should even up the competition, with Illawarra in particular going from wooden spooners to legitimate threats. That said it’s Melbourne who appear to be in the box seat, with new coach Dean Demopoulos jumping straight into the hot seat.
Cairns and the New Zealand Breakers, last year’s grand finalists, will be in the mix. The Breakers will be particularly well-placed if they welcome back Corey Webster, who is currently aiming for an NBA roster spot in New Orleans.
Perth with Jawai is a dangerous proposition, while Sydney might finally have the tools to break through to the upper echelon.
The Adelaide 36ers will look to blast from the past Ebi Ere and fellow import Kenyon McNeaill to return to the semi-final stage, while the Townsville Crocodiles will be keen for their fresh faces to light it up in the face of wooden spoon predictions.
Will the season live up to the hype? There’s no reason to think it won’t.
The on-court product brings the drama and the excitement and the storylines, but getting the off-court product right means those things actually cut through to the wider sports-following public.
The NBL finally looks like it will be capable of marrying those two things up. If that’s indeed the case, we can expect a far less stressful off-season next year.