A BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS
Another important factor in the league’s success – a factor the people in charge of the game are getting right again – was the quality of the imports and coaches.
There were lots of players who either had NBA experience or were on the fringes. Lanard Copeland, who I had played against in the Philippines, and guys like Robert Rose and Norman Taylor, who I knew from the States. Studs like Andre Lafluer, D-Mac, Mark Davis, James Crawford and many others. The level of imports was top notch; those battles alone were worth the price of admission. Even when I joined the Gold Coast Rollers and the Brisbane Bullets, fellow teammates like Steve Woodberry and Leroy Loggins were great competitors.
They were really good players with huge personalities. I’ve seen NBL teams through the years recruiting then cutting two or three imports in a season. That means the teams aren’t getting it right from the start. If you bring in quality imports into the league, the Australian consumer will support it.
On top of that, you had a generation of extremely talented Australian players – Andrew Gaze, Mark Bradtke, Andrew Vlahov, Shane Heal and the like. And then you had coaches like Brian Goorjian and Brett Brown, who is now at the 76ers. They were great minds and are still class acts.
It’s encouraging to see the NBL returning to that blueprint now. The game was at a very high status in the 1990s and I believe it can get there again ‘if done correctly’.
The Kings have a massive opportunity in front of them. They have that big, beautiful city all to themselves now given that there’s no team in the west anymore. Bringing in a target name like Andrew Bogut, coupled with Andrew Gaze taking over the coaching duties a few years ago, represents a pivotal point in terms of their on-court success and off-court marketing penetration.
In the NBA, we’ve seen Bogut lift teams. In Australia, he will have the opportunity to lift the entire league.
It makes me proud watching these 2018 NBA play-offs. You can see the fruits of the labour the NBL put in a generation ago.
Joe Ingles is doing great things at Utah with Dante Exum coming off the bench. Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker are productive players for the Milwaukee Bucks. Aron Baynes is playing big minutes in Boston, as is Patty Mills with the Spurs. And Ben Simmons … wow. He’s extremely special. Brett Brown and the 76ers have something very special there.
I remember Ben when he was a kid watching his dad, Dave, play with the Tigers. It was the same with Bruce Bolden’s son, Jonah. Dante Exum wouldn’t have been two years old when I saw him at Cecil’s house in Melbourne.
All of these guys – not just the sons of former players, but that whole generation of young basketballers in Australia – were influenced in a positive way the NBL of the 1990s. To see them go on to play in the NBA or get drafted is amazing. The Boomers will be formidable for many years to come.
I think you’re going to see more Australians make their way to the NBA. It’s only going to grow. This generation of kids will be inspired by Ben, Joe, Patty and Dante just as those guys were inspired by the generation I played in.
It makes me proud. Having spent the better part of 12 years in Australia, I’m happy to see this.
Watching Bogut play for the Kings will be high on my to-do list when I’m back in Sydney, but there are other things I’m looking forward to as well.
My two sons were born in Australia and my oldest, Dwayne II, is living in Sydney and playing in the state league. He is returning from ACL surgery at the moment. Hopefully, you’ll see his name up there alongside Simmons and Exum in the not-too-distant future.
You’ll be hearing about my other son, Kaleb, as well. He’s 18, six-foot-five and is in the process now of deciding which college he’ll attend. He’s been accepted to St Mary’s in California and they have a big Australian connection.
I live in Florida these days, consulting in the mergers and acquisitions space. I’m trying to see if I can negotiate a work scenario that would allow me split my time between the US and Australia.
I do miss Australia and I always enjoy catching up with great friends like Andrew Lazarus, who was a part-owner of the Kings, and all my other boys like Danny Kordahi from DKM Blue, who was a ball boy for the Kings in the 90s, and Rodney ‘O’, who was our court announcer.
It always feels like home.