• Ian Stacker

The NBL is back

I had the pleasure of using a mate’s tickets last week to go to the NBL game between Melbourne United and the Sydney Kings and I must say, it was a great night.

There was certainly plenty of basketball talent on the court. Andrew Gaze has learnt the most important lesson of coaching in the NBL…get good players. The Kings boast three players with NBA experience, 3 Olympians and a good supporting cast. United, while without their most potent perimeter threats in Chris Goulding and Todd Blanchfield and having just cut Cedric Jackson also had plenty of talent.

There is already talk of Andrew as the next Boomers coach and why not? As a BA board member and Chair of the High-Performance Commission he could set all the job specks, help create the short list of candidates, interview himself and then make the appointment to the most highly credentialed candidate, no worries at all…..but I digress.

Talent has certainly been one of the key ingredients missing from the NBL for the past 5-10 years. Tom Garlepp has been a starter for most of his career but now finds it hard to hit the pine given the array of talent the Kings have at their disposal.

Although Nate Tomlinson had to play starter minutes for United, his role has also been greatly reduced due to the talent usually ahead of him, he is certainly more a backup at the elite level and once Goulding, Blanchfield and new import Ware fit back into the line-up he will also be more a spectator than a contributor. Adnam also might have potential but a big factor in the game was the 56 points Cadee and Lisch enjoyed at the expense of the less talented United back court.

Another great part of the evening was the game night presentation, happily there was little music played during play. Even as I flick between channels writing this blog, United are playing Cairns on one channel and the Utah Jazz are playing the Bulls on the other, it is pleasing to hear both games enjoying a similar level of acoustic vibe of crowd noise, squeaking boots, coach and referee banter and less rap music blasting out a billion decibels.

Pre-game at Hisense arena is also much like an NBA game now. There are plenty of interactive activities for the kids and it all certainly has a far more of a family atmosphere than in previous years – it is certainly heading in the right direction.

As you look around the league the talent level has certainly gone up. David Andersen, Brad Newley, Alex Maric, David Barlow, Chris Goulding, Nathan Jawai and Damien Martin, most Olympians and all still playing good basketball.

It is clear more money is being devoted to the imports players too. While spectators sometimes refer to the awesome import recruiting abilities of some clubs it is really a bit like buying a car. If you have the cash and head to the Porsche or Ferrari dealership, then you can be confident you are going to come away with a good ride. However, if you must go cheaper and shop at Honest Joes Car Yard then you are more than likely going to get something with an issue. It’s the same with import players, if you shop in a certain salary range you are highly likely to get a good player, go cheap and sometimes you might get lucky but you are certainly going to have to rely more on luck.

All in all, the night reminded me of the hey days of the NBL and sadly we all know what happened afterwards.

So, what went wrong and what can the new NBL try to avoid.

Teams going broke and very poor game night presentation were big factors in the down turn of the league. It looks like they have got the game night stuff under control.

How do they stop teams from going broke? The only way it can remain viable with the talent on the floor and the quality of the facilities is that it must land a big TV deal. Larry Kestelman and some of the other owners are certainly putting their hands in their pockets to get the talent and publicity that the league has been generating since Larry took over. The media hasn’t suddenly got interested in basketball again, I would imagine there is a considerable expense in the media coverage the NBL is starting to enjoy.

The Foxsports coverage has made a welcome return. There has been plenty of criticism though in basketball circles about the quality of the presenters and their expert status. Some unhappy with the dumbing down of the game in the commentary given that if someone pays for the sports package and watches the NBL games then they are likely to understand the game above an elementary level. Some criticism has been about the choice of experts, given the news today about a certain Fox commentator I expect there will be some minor changes in the commentary team, certainly welcomed by most, great to see D Mac get a shot tonight.

There is no doubt the product is much better and everyone associated with the NBL since pulling away from Basketball Australia should be congratulated on the job to date. It has been revigorated and the quality is there.

History tells us, those who have been close to the NBL, that financially secure people like Larry will hang around to a point, they will put the money in for a while but unless there is light at the end of the tunnel they will likely cut their losses and move on.

I remember one of these wealthy business men once describing to me their interest in basketball as a choice between buying a new yacht or buying a basketball team, it was a bit of fun.

When your own livelihood depended to a certain degree on someone else’s pastime interest it was less than comfortable and history has shown that the money tends to move on. Hopefully while Kestelman and his crew are passionate about hoops they can make it work.

The NBL certainly has plenty of history of failure so there are many examples of what hasn’t worked, so far, they look like they are getting it right. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for basketball if it could be something the major media players wanted to bid for!

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