Nothing has ever come easy for Damian Martin, but the Perth Wildcats captain has amassed one of the all-time great NBL careers ahead of celebrating game 300 at a time when he’s about to become a father for the second time and his post-basketball career is taking off.
Martin’s journey to 300 games has certainly had its hurdles with injuries and that’s everything from serious knee and Achilles injuries out of his control and then contact facial injuries that come from the way he plays the game.
But it’s the way he plays the game that has made him one of the greatest NBL players ever and without question, the best defender the league has ever seen.
Ahead of celebrating his 300th game on Sunday as the Wildcats take on the New Zealand Breakers in Auckland, it’s a chance to reflect on a remarkable career for Martin whose defence has often been lauded with him claiming a record six NBL Best Defensive Player honours.
But the 34-year-old is also a four-time championship winner with three of those coming with him as captain while he was Grand Final MVP in 2016.
While his defence is what he’s become famous for with the way he hounds opposition guards, nabs steals from nowhere, can fly in from anywhere to block shots, hustles like nobody else ever has for loose balls and rebounds outstandingly well for a guard, there’s much more to the Wildcats skipper.
His scoring and shooting is underrated, largely because he often prefers to set up his teammates than take it upon himself, but he’s a handy knockdown three-point shooter, has a reliable floater and can do well getting to the basket.
His leadership and ability to run an offence is elite as well and that is why over the course of 299 NBL games he is so universally respected and why he also got to realise his dream in 2016 by representing Australia at the Rio Olympic Games.
Now as he approaches 300 games on Sunday, the timing of it is impeccable.
It might have been preferable for him to have a home game in Perth, but if it was against any opponent it’s only fitting it’s against the Breakers who have been the Wildcats’ great rivals over the past ten years.
His milestone just happens to fall on the same weekend as well that his long-time junior and NBL coach Rob Beveridge reached 300 games while off the basketball court, things continue to shine for Martin.
He recently completed his real estate training and study, and has now taken up a position with First National Real Estate Genesis. The first house under his control just happens to be owned by his 2010 championship teammate, Stephen Weigh.
If that wasn’t enough, his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Maggie is about to have a sibling with Martin and his wife Brittany set to welcome their second child any day now.
To consider he already has a career most can only dream of in basketball and that his family life is blooming and his life post-basketball is getting set up, Martin can’t help but deliver his trademark smile ahead of game 300 even if it’s over in New Zealand.
“It is nice that if the game can’t be in Perth that it’s against a team that I’ve played against in so many Grand Finals or semi-finals, and in the first eight years I was in Perth one of us won the championship,” Martin said.
“I know it’s a different line-up to both teams and there’s no Mika Vukona or Kirk Penney there, but it’s still the same club and the Breakers have been such a big rival of ours which has always been full of respect. I’m looking forward to getting out there to play against a quality team on their home court in a milestone game.
“It’s one of those things where I think when you play a milestone game, it’s something you probably appreciate once you finish playing. But it’s something I’m proud of and I’m excited to say I’ve been able to play 300 games but in all reality, I was completely oblivious to it until a couple of weeks ago.
“I would love to have achieved that milestone a lot earlier, it has taken some time due to a lot of injuries, but I’m proud to have played 10 of my 12 seasons with the one club. I love the idea of being a one-club player and I had that taken away from me with West Sydney folding, but to be with Perth ever since has been fantastic.”
Martin certainly isn’t done with his career and hopes to play on beyond this season, but he hasn’t always had a clear vision of what he wanted to do beyond his playing days.
But real estate has now become something he’s happy to focus on, like another 2010 championship teammate Drew Williamson, and while his NBL career is still what attracts most of his attention, he’s glad to now be making strides to get that career up and running too.
“I’m still hoping to play on beyond this season but I didn’t want to be the person who got to the end of my playing days without experience life post my basketball days,” Martin said.
“I want to hit the ground running when I do jump to another job so I’ve had a little taste of that now and have enjoyed it so far, but I still have a lot of learning to do. I hope that I can learn as much as possible while still playing so that when I do finish my basketball days, I’ll have something to move into.
“I never thought I’d find a job that could bring the enjoyment and satisfaction that basketball has, but the reality is my wife and I recently realised what a highlight in life it was when our offer was accepted to buy a house. It was a beautiful moment so to be able to help other people achieve that is something I’m very much looking forward to.”
Martin never realised what impact being a father would have on him until the arrival of daughter Maggie and now he can’t wait to be a father of two any day now.
“It’s incredible and it’s beautiful the life balance it has given me, and the appreciation of not only my own wife, but more so my own parents. I never realised their sacrifices or appreciated them fully until I’ve become a parent myself when you realise just how much you can love another human,” he said.
“I get home and it never knows what my day was like, Maggie’s there and my focus is all on her. It’s a lot harder than I was expecting but it’s also the most rewarding experience of my life. I’ve loved the first two-and-a-half years we’ve had so far with Mags and now Britt is 37 weeks pregnant and it’s all about to begin again.”
The Martin story is a remarkable one and there was never any guarantee he’d ever play basketball again after quitting as a 15-year-old, let alone that he would go on and become an all-time great.
The travel to find somewhere to play from Gloucester was taking too much of a toll on the Martin family so it was easier for him to stay closer to home and play rugby league.
He never really considered changing his mind until Rob Beveridge got in touch, but with him and his father, and would go on to offer him a scholarship to the NSW Institute of Sport.
That began the hugely successful relationship between Martin and Beveridge with Martin going on to college to play at California’s Loyola Marymount University who backed him despite a ruptured Achilles.
He was also part of the history-making 2003 junior world championship team coached by Beveridge and alongside the likes of Andrew Bogut, Brad Newley, Matt Knight and Brad Robbins.
Injuries then marred the start of his NBL career at the West Sydney Razorbacks before he was without a home with the folding of the Sydney Spirit.
But he followed Beveridge to the Wildcats and immediately they won a championship in 2010.
While Beveridge left Perth following the 2012-13 season, Martin has remained and without question has put together a Wildcats career that once he retires, at some stage will see his No. 53 hanging from the rafters at RAC Arena.
To be an NBL player of 300 games, four-time championship winner, Grand Final MVP and six-time Best Defensive Player is remarkable and more than Martin could have ever dreamed of accomplishing.
It was going to the Olympics that Martin thought would always be an unreachable dream and that was even more so the case when he was left shattered when the last player cut from the Boomers squad for London in 2012.
But four years later, he got to be part of Rio and on top of what he’s done in the NBL, it has produced a career he still shakes his head at when he takes the chance to reflect.
“There would have been a lot of doubt and I thought anyone saying that was a madman to be honest. I became obsessed with the Olympics when I watched Barcelona and saw the Dream Team playing and the Boomers,” Martin said.
“My eldest brother and I taped every game on the old VHS and watched them over and over again, but not once did I think it could become a reality. So to play a sport that I love and get paid to do it professionally for so long is something I’m very happy I’ve been able to do.
“I’m certainly going to miss it but I feel lucky I’ve got to do it for so long and when you look at those achievements, I never thought any of it was possible especially having grown up in a country town. That’s why I try to get back there as often as possible and other country towns to show them what’s possible.”
NBL Round 12 fixtures (AEDT)
Cairns Taipans 109 defeated Brisbane Bullets 80
Adelaide 36ers 96 lost to New Zealand Breakers 104
Illawarra Hawks 78 defeated Sydney Kings 71
New Zealand Breakers v Perth Wildcats – Spark Arena 12.08pm
Brisbane Bullets v Melbourne United – Gold Coast Convention Centre 2.08pm
Cairns Taipans v Sydney Kings – Cairns Convention Centre 7.50pm