NBL: Love/hate relationships - the players the fans love to hate
Every club has them.
The players that are adored by their loyal followers but seem to draw the ire of opposition fans.
They are descendants in a long line of on-court nuisances in the NBL, taking the baton from their ancestors and assuming the mantle at their club as enemy number one with opposition audiences.
So which current players do the fans love to hate the most at your club?
In recent years, notable pests for the Sixers have included import Julius Hodge, who later returned to Adelaide as the enemy and stamped on Brett Maher’s signature at mid-court after the final buzzer, and most recently Brock Motum, who in just one season developed a reputation as a serial complainer which, along with his physicality under the ring, made him someone that opposition fans loved to get stuck into.
However, it is veteran point-guard and long-time NBL star Adam Gibson who has developed into enemy number one when the Sixers travel outside of Adelaide.
Whilst extremely well-respected in the game in Australia, his physicality on defence and love for the odd on-court spot-fire makes him a target. That and the fact that he is and has been good – really good – for so long and that he has the ability to take games by the scruff of the neck and dash the opposition’s chances of victory in minutes.
With ‘Gibbo’ approaching the twilight of his career now, explosive three-man Mitch Creek looks set to be the one to take over the mantle as public enemy number one outside of Adelaide.
His fiery attitude on-court, but also sometimes off it – he posted a picture to social media wearing a discarded Melbourne Tigers t-shirt after eliminating them from the playoffs two years ago – will ensure a colourful NBL career lies ahead of him.
Outside of North Queensland rivals Townsville, the Snakes have few rivalries in the NBL and have never really had a reputation for signing players that opposition fans love to hate.
That is, of course, until they signed Mark Worthington from Melbourne at the start of this season.
Worthington, for a number of reasons, is just about the perfect example of a player that fans, outside of his own, love to get stuck into at every opportunity.
Aside from being one of the greatest players in NBL history over the course of his career, and still having the ability to break games wide open within minutes now, fans love to hate ‘Wortho’ because he plays with emotion and fire that is unrivalled by any other player in the competition.
He loves to get under the guard of opposition players and never takes a backwards step, with the veteran more than happy to get into a little push and shove if it comes to that. Outside of his aggression, his on-court smarts see him getting advantages at every opportunity, with his ability to draw a charge in particular something that seemingly sets off the opposition fans.
Regardless of which colours Worthington is wearing, he is sure to assume the mantle of enemy number one outside of his home city, but instead of taking it to hear he wears it like a badge of honour and uses it to his advantage instead, making opposition fans hate him even more.
Former import Gary Ervin played for the Hawks on two separate occasions, bouncing around the league in between stints, and quickly became a fan favourite for his explosive speed and ability to create baskets for himself and teammates.
Of course, he also fast became a player that opposing fans loved to hate with a number of incidents – including kneeing Chris Goulding in the groin during the playoffs whilst playing for Adelaide two years ago – only adding fuel to the fire.
Like so many other NBL players who get the same treatment from opposition fans, it was Ervin’s fiery on-court personality, getting under players guards and being good at it, as well as his obvious talent and being one of the premier guards in the league, made him an obvious target.
Since he left at the end of last season, there has been somewhat of a rather large hole to fill in the Hawks roster in terms of which guy opposition audiences can get stuck into when the Hawks play away from Wollongong.
Tyson Demos is looking like the front runner to fill the void, with the defensive guard playing with emotion and getting under the skin of his opponents, but only time will tell who becomes the next Hawks’ villain.
Melbourne let go of Mark Worthington at the end of last season and, with that, instantly became a lot more likeable as a team.
Being a big and relatively successful club, United (or the Tigers, Magic, Titans, Giants or Dragons) has always been targeted as a club who many fans from outside of Melbourne have enjoyed seeing lose, similarly to Perth and Sydney.
However the exit of Worthington looks to have paved the way for the returning Chris Goulding to assume the role of public enemy number one.
While Goulding is undoubtedly a star of the competition and is brilliant to watch in full flight, regardless of which team you may support, he is becoming someone who gets under the skin of non-Melbourne fans.
He is developing a reputation, unfair or otherwise, as a flopper, and has been at the centre of some controversies over past couple of years – namely the above mentioned incident with Ervin and a post-game brush with James Ennis in front of 12,000 loyal Perth fans with long memories.
Of course, the fact that ‘Bubbles’ is perhaps the best shooter in the league, is able to knock down ridiculous jump shots and turn the momentum of a game within a couple of minutes only makes opposing fans love to hate him even more.
New Zealand Breakers
For years, local favourite Dillon Boucher ruled the roost as the Breaker that everyone else loved to hate, with his uncompromising defensive style of play and his refusal to back down from any situation making sure he got under the skin of his opponents and their supporters.
Since moving on from his basketball career, another Kiwi veteran in Mika Vukona has assumed that mantle, despite being one of the most likeable figures in the league off the court.
Vukona is an agitator on the court, known for his relentless hustle, passion and desire to go all in for his teammates. Sometimes, however, Vukona oversteps the mark physically, being involved in more than a few push-and-shoves throughout his career and being hit with unsportsmanlike and technical fouls, as well as being ejected from games.
Breakers teammate Tai Wesley looks the most likely candidate to take over from Vukona once he calls time on his illustrious career, with a similar fire and passion, sometimes directed at opposition players and officials, already on display since embarking on his NBL career last year.
The Wildcats have made the post-season in 29 straight seasons, naturally automatically making them the hunted and one of the most hated teams in the competition.
Having the likes of James Ennis, who is now plying his trade for Miami in the NBA, on board along the way certainly hasn’t helped, with the American stirring plenty of pots while he was here for just one season, including run-ins with opposition players and his well-documented dummy spit when he didn’t win league MVP.
However, one Wildcat trumps even he as the most hated player on Perth’s roster and, perhaps, the entire league.
Shawn Redhage is a naturalised international who is now an NBL veteran, with his reputation nothing short of heroic inside Western Australia and the complete opposite around the rest of the country.
To fans outside of Perth, Redhage is a dirty player, a flopper and a serial complainer, and is without doubt always public enemy number one at NBL matches around Australia.
That doesn’t faze the Wildcats journeyman, however, with unrivalled team success and personal longevity in the league serving as the ultimate response to the constant jeers from opposing fans.
The Kings have had a history of great players and just as many who fans have loved to hate, sometimes players who come under both categories.
Shane Heal, one of Australia’s greatest ever basketballers, played for the Kings on a number of occasions through the 1990’s and early 2000’s and was constantly picked on by opposition crowds, and is one such example.
Up until last season, the most despised player on their roster was undoubtedly Ben Madgen, who was adored by the home fans for his extremely hard-working style and how emotionally invested in his team and the game he was at all times.
Madgen’s popularity tumbled further when he threw a chair at an official on the baseline in Melbourne when he didn’t get a foul call on a drive to the basket. Amazingly, he didn’t receive a technical foul and that perhaps only made it easier for the Melbourne fans to get stuck into him.
Since Madgen’s defection to Europe at the end of last season, there has been a sizeable void to fill in the Kings roster, with developing young big man Angus Brandt seeming most likely to step up to the plate.
Brandt has done little wrong at this stage but his physical and uncompromising style may draw negative attention away from home as his career develops, particularly given he has already shown he may be around for a while as a quality player for the Kings.
The Crocs have been underdogs in the league for a while now and therefore the heat has largely been off them from opposition fans.
Gary Ervin had a stint in North Queensland not too long ago, while the likes of Jacob Holmes and Russell Hinder could make a nuisance of themselves at times but nothing too serious.
For Townsville, it is their brigade of younger stars that need to be looked to in order to find who the opposition fans may be hating on in years to come.
Mirko Djeric is one who looks to be developing into the role nicely, with a larger spot in the rotation this season so far already and his apparently seamless ability to be able to get inside the head of whoever he may be guarding.
Last week against Melbourne, Djeric sparked his side back into the game with plenty of chatter on the court while also getting tangled with United star Chris Goulding on multiple occasions, forcing referees to have a word with both players.
Djeric looks to make a nuisance of himself at every opportunity for the betterment of his team and gives 100% effort when on court, making him a hero in the eyes of Crocs’ fans and just as easily making him a target for everyone else.