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Remembering rivalry: When South Dragons battled the Tigers
There's no fun in getting along with everyone.
Maybe that's an unusual thing to say, because apparently every NBL fan in Melbourne gets along with each other these days.
These fans used to be enemies. Some were Tigers, others were Giants, Magic, Titans, and/or Dragons. Fans were divided. But now they all get along. They're "united". To some people, that might sound like a heartwarming turn of events. I'm sure those people are sitting around the campfire singing Kumbaya as we speak. Three cheers to living in harmony.
But in sport, we need to hate.
The 2008/09 NBL Grand Final series was the last time NBL fans in Melbourne were allowed to dislike each other. And wasn't it great? The league was in a dire state at the time, mulling over a list of recommendations with an eye to major reform. But during that series, everything seemed healthy. The 10,500-seat Hisense Arena was near-capacity for games one, three and five. The Cage was sold out for games two and four. The mainstream media interestingly, showed flashes of interest.
Above all, each game felt tremendously meaningful. Not only was a championship at stake, but it was between two clubs whose identities were interrelated. The Dragons appealed to their fans because they were not the Tigers. Those who had previously followed non-Tigers Melbourne-based teams were begging for an alternative to the red and yellow. The Dragons provided it.
Conversely, the Tigers prided themselves on being a mainstay in the league when so many cross-town rivals had disappeared into the financial abyss. The presence of a strong Dragons outfit motivated them to protect their territory.
Of course, beneath the surface of that Grand Final series, the league remained sick. The Dragons became a casualty and the Tigers were quite never the same.
It's promising that NBL executive director Larry Kestelman has publicly stated he is supportive of a second Melbourne team. United has a strong ownership structure and drew some promising crowd numbers last season. Good luck to them. But the game will be even stronger with another cross-town rivalry.
Let's divide the city into two, tell the Melbourne basketball community to pick a side, and learn to dislike each other again. It'll be fun.