Fans were excited to embark on the first season with coach Jim O’Brien from start to finish.
This week saw the NBA’s annual All-Star weekend, which culminated in a fourth quarter that was one of the best seen at this level for some time.
A tweak to the format gave the game some much-needed intensity in what has otherwise been nothing more than a glorified dunk contest with very little, if any, defence being played. This got me thinking as to whether the NBL was now at a point where a genuine All-Star game could be back on the agenda.
The last NBL All-Star game was played on 22 December 2012 in front of a modest crowd of 4,523 at the Adelaide Arena. The teams were picked in the traditional north versus south concept.
The South All-Stars first team consisted of Jonny Flynn (replaced Kevin Lisch in the starting line-up due to injury), Cedric Jackson, Thomas Abercrombie, Seth Scott and Daniel Johnson (replaced Matt Knight in the starting line-up due to injury), while the North starters were Adris Deleon, Ben Madgen, Oscar Forman, Darnell Lazare and Cam Tregardh.
The South All-stars ran out winners 134-114 on the back of a Chris Goulding masterclass that saw him pick up the All-Star MVP award. So what happened to the concept and why haven’t we seen it in the last seven years?
Like anything in life, interest can grow stale if not properly marketed and back during this time, the NBL was still trying to work out an identity in a very strong sporting landscape. The 2012-2013 season was contested by eight teams and a look back at the crowd attendances goes some way to explaining why an All-Star contest was not high on the agenda.
Apart from the Perth Wildcats in the new Perth Arena, who had the largest crowd of the season at 12,381 and an average crowd attendance in excess of 11,000, the remaining teams’ attendances were less than half this figure.
Most notably, in what would be considered the two biggest markets in Sydney and Melbourne, the crowds were poor, to say the least. The Sydney Kings’ average crowd attendance was 5241 while the Melbourne Tigers had a lowly average attendance of 4066.
Fast forward to the 2019-2020 season and while the Perth Wildcats are still leading the way with an average crowd attendance of 12,937, the gap between the rest of the competition has significantly closed with Sydney (10,012) and Melbourne United (8382) showing substantial improvements.
The overall crowd numbers are up across the board as are television audiences and with the introduction of the preseason NBA versus NBL games and the Next Stars program, the interest in the NBL is now rivalling the late 80s and early 90s when players such as Andrew Gaze, Lenard Copeland, Ricky Grace, Cal Bruton Snr, James “The Alabama Slammer” Crawford, Scott Fischer, Darryl MacDonald and Leroy Loggins were all household names.
More and more imports with NBA experience are also starting to choose the NBL as an option.
I now believe that the time is right for the league to consider re-igniting the All-star concept in the NBL. My suggestion for the format would be as follows:
Sydney Kings, Cairns Taipans, Brisbane Bullets and Illawarra Hawks
Perth Wildcats, Melbourne United, South East Melbourne Phoenix, Adelaide 36ers and New Zealand Breakers
Given Perth has by far led the way in crowd attendances for the league for quite some time, they deserve to be rewarded with hosting rights at RAC Arena and possibly rotated through other venues every other year.
Mid-season – the regular competition would break for one week to hold the All-Star weekend. I don’t think a whole weekend is viable to begin with, therefore one day only – Saturday or Sunday.
Similar to the NBA, the players are chosen in their respective positions as listed in by their clubs based on a combination of coaches’ votes, player votes, fan votes and media votes to determine the 20 players that will participate with the highest vote-getters in each position being selected.
Using this season as an example, potential All-Star team line-ups could look as follows:
North All-Star starters
Andrew Bogut (Kings)
Lamar Patterson (Bullets)
DJ Newbill (Taipans)
Scott Machado (Taipans)
Jae’Sean Tate (Kings)
South All-Star starters
Shaun Long (United)
Scott Hopson (Breakers)
Mitch Creek (Phoenix)
Nick Kay (Wildcats)
Bryce Cotton (Wildcats)
Who wouldn’t pay good money to watch those teams competing against each other? While the names listed above may get you excited, it is the names that are not on this list which convince me that this concept is ready to be unleashed.
The overall depth of the NBL is now such that there is more than enough quality to fill the two rosters. Consider some exceptional players that are not on those lists, such as Casper Ware, Kevin Lisch, Brad Newley, Xavier Cooks, Jerome Randle, Corey Webster, Terrico White, John Roberson, Didi Louzada, Chris Goulding, Sek Henry, Daniel Johnson, Nate Jawai and Cam Oliver to name a few.
The quality of the competition is now at a point where this would provide a genuine contest and throw into the mix the three-point contest, dunk contest and skills challenge, this becomes a worthwhile spectacle for the paying public.
Larry Kestelman and his team have done an amazing job reviving the NBL competition over the past two-three years and have shown that they are not afraid to take some risks to build the brand of the competition.
I believe that re-introducing the NBL All-Star game would continue the revival of the competition and take the game to the next level in this country.