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Rising after the fall: Aussie hoops and the road ahead
A fall from grace
Just a mere five years ago, basketball in Australia was in disarray, becoming a shadow of its former self.
The quality which had been so rich and entertaining throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s had run dry, and the fans spoke with their feet as crowds dwindled and free-to-air television cut ties.
The NBL and WNBL, and Aussie hoops in itself, was in a dark place. A raft of teams had folded in a short amount of time, including stalwarts in big market areas such as the Sydney Kings and Brisbane Bullets.
However, fast forward five years and things are looking up once more for the sport Down Under. Why? Well any number of reasons, really.
Aligning the NBL and WNBL
First and foremost, the powers that be have made a much more concerted effort to align our two premier professional competitions.
Look no further than last year's pre-season, when all clubs from both the NBL and WNBL competed in a tournament at Dandenong in Victoria. The weekend was a huge success and allowed the many fans which turned out to get up close and personal with the stars of our game.
The Adelaide 36ers (NBL) and Lightning (WNBL) have taken that idea on board for this coming season and merged many sections of their clubs, including game days which will feature a series of double-headers throughout the schedule.
Given many NBL teams have a WNBL counterpart, more double-headers would be a great way to increase crowds and the buzz around town.
International success sparking results at home
The recent success of the national teams has also helped the leagues along back home. While the Opals have had continued success over a number of years thanks to a raft of WNBA players led by Lauren Jackson and now Liz Cambage, the Boomers haven’t enjoyed the same level of success, to say the least.
However with the likes of Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, David Anderson and Aron Baynes all part of NBA rosters, more interest has been generated amongst fans and media alike.
Couple that with the projection that youngsters Dante Exum and Ben Simmons, sons of former NBL imports Cecil and David, will be top 5 draft picks in the NBA sometime over the next three years means Australian basketball is getting somewhere internationally, and that translates into success back home.
You just have to look at the names that have come through the NBL in recent years to see that. Mills himself had a stint with Melbourne during the NBA lockout of 2011, and he has been followed by the likes of former NBA draftees Johnny Flynn and Cedric Jackson, the latter in particular taking the competition by storm.
For season 2013/14 there is seemingly more of the same to look forward to. Australian superstars AJ Ogilvy (Sydney Kings) and Mark Worthington (Melbourne Tigers) are returning home in a sure fire sign of just how much the quality of the league has improved. Add an influx of ex-US college and one time NBA hopefuls in the prime of their careers, as well as current Miami Heat rostered player James Ennis (Perth Wildcats) and the league is reaching levels that it hasn’t for a decade.
Fan support growth
And the fans are well and truly responding. Perth have moved into a brand new stadium of 12,000 seat capacity – and sold it out regularly last season. New Zealand and Melbourne took some games to larger stadiums to successful crowds of over 5,000 each time and will be doing so again this season, while Sydney have started to fill out their own 10,000 seat capacity home court more regularly.
The WNBL hasn’t missed out either, with a huge increase in the number of imports around the league last season, including former number 2 WNBA pick Monica Wright and current WNBA star Kelsey Griffin leading the way.
Foundation club Bulleen Boomers has outgrown their small-town supporter base and stadium and has become the Melbourne Boomers for the upcoming season, moving to a larger stadium and attracting fans from all over metropolitan Victoria.
Back on the NBL and with the return of the popular pre-season Blitz tournament this season, games back on free-to-air television, the massive increase in crowds across the board and the touted possible return of the Brisbane Bullets in 2014, the league is well and truly blossoming once more.
The talent making its way to our shores for the new season is outstanding in both the men’s and women’s competitions, and when coupled with the increasing depth of the local crop across the board, promises some of the most exciting and entertaining basketball the national leagues have seen in recent years.
While there is still work to do, basketball is back on the map in Australia and rising once again.
Bring on season 2013/14!