Who should Australia’s NBA team be?

Which NBA franchise should Australian sport fans support? This is one of life’s great questions, when following the world’s premier basketball league from 15,000 kilometres away.

The answer often changes like the breeze, depending on which city our greatest exports call home. Which inevitability means that fandom doesn’t last forever. Sure, we care about the Milwaukee Bucks this year because of Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker, but this appreciation is finite. One day, the Bucks’ Australian contingent will move on, and the franchise will become just another one of thirty to most of us.

In American Football, the Dallas Cowboys are known as ‘America’s Team’. The origins of this term are as underwhelming as the label is flamboyant, but the moniker has followed the Cowboys for almost 40 years. Like it or not, they are America’s Team.

So who is ‘Australia’s NBA team’? Who should we support?

In a League Pass era where every game is available, it is now possible to witness our Australian boys plying their trade in America. But we can also devote our time and fall in love with a franchise. The NBA is a superstar’s league, yet the sports romantic in me appreciates the need for a team that we can call our own.

Justin's three loves

This leads nicely to my mate Justin.

Justin recently told me he supports three NBA teams. Three bloody teams! I thought he was crazy and laughed him out the room. He then explained the logic behind such apparent bandwagon behaviour.

He has the Philadelphia 76ers. Justification: his crush on Ben Simmons is rivalled only by yours truly.

He has the Oklahoma City Thunder. Justification: because, as he put it, Russell Westbrook is Frankenstein and I will support any team he plays for.

And finally, he has the Denver Nuggets. Justification: they were his first NBA love.

Tell me which one doesn’t fit here.

You have the Australian superstar, the NBA superstar and his man crush. The Nuggets are a first love. They struck a chord years ago and remain important to his basketball life. Seriously, Justin watches every Nuggets game. Why would anyone do that to themselves?

Despite knowing the long odds of Denver ever winning an NBA title, he maintains a level of support like the most tragic of the sports romantics. Not so crazy after all. I think Justin might be a visionary.

Upon reflection, I am just the same, and I’m willing to bet many of you are in a similar position.

I now believe most local hoops fans are just like us. They will have the team they support because an Australian has donned the uniform, the team they support because of a superstar like Westbrook, and the team they support for making them fall in love with American basketball.

For some of you, this will be the same team. If you have become a fan of the San Antonio Spurs this decade, I’m looking at you. Don’t think I’m taking a pot shot, because that’s not the case. Just realise how lucky you are that all three have intertwined into an awesome Patty Mills-infused cocktail.

The rest of us are left juggling fandom, patriotism and star gazing throughout each NBA season. Too many opposing forces at play, and this is a problem.

To help decipher this quandary, I have created some rules to determine which NBA franchise should be Australia’s Team. Basically, if you are looking for a reliable team to compliment the finite careers of our Australian superstars - akin an NBA mistress on the side – we need a set of Australian approved options.

As we have explained, playing rosters in the NBA are ever rotating, so having an Australian on the team in 2016 isn’t a must. Rather, I have thought philosophically about the franchise that holds qualities us Australians hold dear.

What is the city like? Can Australia relate to the fan base? Would we appreciate the team’s public figures? Is the mascot suitable? These are the questions I have thought long and hard about. Let’s explore the criteria.

Rule No.1: We are looking for an underdog who overachieves

Translation: Someone fighting above their weight class who is still successful. We are not New Zealand.

There is nothing we love more than an underdog. Kieren Perkins, Steven Bradbury, the Socceroos 2006 World Cup campaign, John Bertrand and Australia II. I could go on and on. Each of these stories chased glory against all odds and embodied the spirit of a great Aussie Battler.

Australia demands a certain level of success, but a championship pedigree isn’t required. In fact, sustained success can be seen as a negative in our power rankings. Hawthorn winning another AFL Premiership, or Melbourne doing the same in the NRL, is not a great Australian story. The Western Bulldogs or Cronulla finally breaking through? That would be an awesome Australian sporting moment that everyone can get behind.

With all that said, a perennial loser will not be considered. There must be signs of competence over the long term.

Who this rule eliminates:

Sacramento Kings: Don’t even start. These guys are a mess, Australia cannot get behind that.

Minnesota Timberwolves: No playoff appearances in 12 years is all you need to know. The future is bright with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in tow, but there has been no sign of achievement, let alone overachievement, so they are out.

New York Knicks: The Knicks are the most valuable franchise, worth almost $3 billion USD. If it weren’t for James Dolan, they would never be an underdog. Australia says no.

Charlotte Hornets: Too much instability and change with these guys. With only three playoff wins since 2002, the Hornets must be eliminated. They tick many of our other categories but no thanks.

Milwaukee Bucks: It hurts to eliminate the Bucks given their love affair with acquiring Australian players, but the results speak for themselves. Milwaukee has only advanced past the first round in the playoffs once since 1989. A little more success and they will become a contender for the hearts of Australia.

Rule No.2: No flogs policy

Translation: The likes of Clive Palmer, Tony Abbott and Nick Kyrgios have this covered.

This one is pretty simple. We already have enough questionable characters and don’t need more.

Who this rule eliminates:

Golden State Warriors: With apologies to Steph Curry, Steve Kerr, the great fans of Golden State and the best uniforms in basketball, Joe Lacob eliminates them from Australia’s most wanted. Do not mess with the karma gods.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Yes, there was unspeakable suffering prior to 2016, but do not burn jerseys and publicly berate the best thing that ever happened to your franchise. We will never forget, and I doubt LeBron James will either.

Detroit Pistons: The statute of limitations has not expired with The Malice at the Palace. Sorry Detroit.

Washington Wizards: Like that one friend with a questionable dating history, there are just too many red flags on their resume. Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, Javale McGee, Nick Young and Javaris Crittenton have all seen minutes in Washington this decade. No thanks.

Los Angeles Clippers: Donald Sterling owned this franchise for 34 years. That is all.

Rule No.3: Loyalty is a must

Translation: No front-runners allowed.

Mateship, loyalty and commitment; these are a must if you want our support.

Who this rule eliminates:

Miami Heat: The Game 6 debacle in 2013 says it all. They couldn’t even fill an arena when LeBron James was making them relevant again. Plus, Seven Nation Army is beyond a cliché by now. Miami is definitely one of the most anti-Australian options.

Atlanta Hawks: Nobody cares about the Hawks in Atlanta, so why should we? I mean, the Hawks even hold an annual Tinder night in an attempt to attract fans. No thanks, Australia swipes left.

Phoenix Suns: This is less about the fan base and more about the front office. Goran Dragic has savaged the team numerous times since being traded to Miami, while the Morris twins haven’t exactly been sending appreciation to Phoenix since departing.

Rule No.4: Catchy nickname is required

Translation: The staple of every Aussie relationship is a strong nickname.

Sporting team monikers are fraught with danger. It is impossible to please everybody and there will always be complaints. While nothing in America will ever compare to the great abbreviations like Dazza, Shazzza, Acca Dacca and Maccas, a strong nickname (by American standards) is required.

Who this rule eliminates:

New Orleans Pelicans: Basketball is an exciting, fast-paced and sexy game. A Pelican on the other hand, it is none of these things. Boring.

Indiana Pacers: What is a Pacer, and how does it relate to Australia? Somebody please let me know.

Orlando Magic: I’ve always thought this franchise sounds like the next Disney Movie. Seriously soft name. I mean, could you imagine a tradie from Ballarat bragging to his mates about a sporting team called the ‘Magic’? Nope.

We tried this once before with the South East Melbourne Magic in the NBL and they lasted all of six years. Sorry Orlando.

Philadelphia 76ers: Sporting teams should not be named after numbers. End of story. I appreciate Adelaide has done something similar in the NBL, but it just doesn't work for me.

Brooklyn Nets: They are named after a piece of sporting equipment! Onto the next rule.

Rule No.5: We don’t cut anybody’s grass

Translation: These franchises are great, but they belong to somebody else. We are not Garry Lyon.

We cannot abandon our morals in the pursuit of Australia’s NBA team. We are better than that. If these franchises become single one day, great. But until then, we keep our distance and show respect.

Who this rule eliminates:

Toronto Raptors: Pretty self-evident. The Raptors are the only team in Canada and we cannot mess with that.

Chicago Bulls: Despite now owning the Charlotte Hornets, Michael Jordan remains the king of Chicago. The city still loves him, and for all intents and purposes, His Airness still holds all the goodwill Chicago can offer. This bond is too strong to break.

Los Angeles Lakers: They currently belong to Jim Buss, and nobody has time for that. The remix of Tommy Boy is running his daddy’s franchise into the ground, making the Lakers a very unattractive target. This is a toxic relationship Australia doesn’t need.

Houston Rockets: Yao Ming planted his flag in Houston and the Rockets belong to China. We just can’t compete with uniforms like this.

Rule No.6: Show us the love

Translation: Before we start liking you, you must know we exist.

Simply put, if an Australian has never played a regular season minute for your franchise, then you cannot be considered.

We accept that every NBA franchise can’t have an Australian on the roster in 2016, but there is no excuse for maintaining your ‘Australian NBA player on your roster’ virginity. Aussies have been dominating America for over 20 years! Check out Basketball-Reference.

Who this rule eliminates:

Boston Celtics: This was the only flaw in Boston’s credentials. Go sign Patty Mills next offseason and we can talk.

Memphis Grizzlies: Similar to the Celtics, there wasn’t much else wrong with Memphis. If only they had signed Joe Ingles in 2014.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Weak name and the abomination that was the James Harden trade were working against OKC in any case.

Denver Nuggets: Justin just punched his laptop. Sorry mate!

Who are the contenders?

That leaves four contenders for the label of Australia’s NBA team: the Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trailblazers, San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz.

While each would be an acceptable choice, in the spirit of competition we must find a winner. Because there are no losers amongst this bunch, I have employed the always farcical beauty pageant ranking system to make our runners-up feel extra special!

Joint second runners-up: Utah Jazz & Portland Trailblazers

Both franchises are underappreciated darlings of the Western Conference and impossible to split.

Each will continue meeting the underdog requirement given their market size, but this has not restricted their ability to compete deep into the playoffs. Portland has only missed the playoffs seven times since 1982, while Utah is just behind them with nine trips to the lottery during this period.

Outside of the infamous Jail Blazers sides from the turn of the century, there has been limited controversy and both franchises have largely been idiot free.

If you are buying stocks for future winners of this award, the Jazz might be heavy favourites with Joe Ingles and Dante Exum on board. As for Portland, they have the best nickname among our finalists and that’s got to count for something. A bronze medal for each is a great achievement.

First runner-up: Dallas Mavericks: I was actually surprised to see Dallas survive my crazy minefield of arbitrary rules, yet upon reflection there are many redeeming features about the Mavericks. Firstly, the nickname is great. So many alternatives for shortened abbreviations and dual meanings make it Australian enough for me.

And then, we have Mark Cuban. At times, he can cast doubts over the Mavericks' ability to meet our second rule, but he has become a net positive. He actually strikes me as the American version of Shane Warne – a cheeky mother f’er constantly cradling the line between sporting visionary and crazy man.

With all that said, Dallas is a top 10 TV market in the United States and Cuban’s wealth makes it hard for these guys to be underdogs anymore. A very good option, but there is one better.

Winner: San Antonio Spurs: I tried arguing against the Spurs because, well (sneaky unpopular opinion alert!) I am getting sick of them, but it just proved to be mission impossible. They have a zero idiots policy, are the most loyal franchise in American sports and have shown love to more Australians than any of our other finalists.

Besides the suitability of their nickname, San Antonio is a clear winner in every category and my candidate to be Australia’s NBA team.

The Hawthorn comparison can be raised as an obvious counterargument, but that isn’t enough to dismay me. San Antonio has ridden some lottery luck into a sustained run of success that can only be admired. Why hate on a good thing?

They are not flashy, they are not always popular, and they continually succeed with workmanlike superstars who don’t get their due. But guess what? That’s why Australia should get behind the Spurs.

They couldn’t care less about the rest of the world, because they know they’re living in basketball paradise. Or to borrow my favourite colloquialism, they’re happy to stick it right up ‘em without the need for fanfare. Sounds pretty Australian to me!

What did you think of Ben’s rankings? Did he get it right, or should Australia get behind a different NBA franchise? Leave a comment and let us know.