Who should the rightful NBL 2019/20 champions be? A round table discussion

Following the news on the NBL 2019/20 season's Grand Final being cancelled ahead of an actual winner, with one (or two) potential games to go. The priority is obviously public safety at this point of time, but a winner was not decided in this series. The league confirmed that they would announce an outcome in 48 hours, on Thursday.

Should it be the Perth Wildcats, who were leading 2-1? Is there room for the Sydney Kings in this discussion, who have largely stated their priority is on health and safety? Or, should a winner not be anointed at all? The team weighs on with various perspectives.

Damian Arsenis

In life there are winners and losers, and basketball is no different. It sounds simple, but there are no draws in basketball. No ties, just results. The Sydney Kings, as the minor premiers, earned home court advantage throughout the finals despite a 1-3 regular season record against the Perth Wildcats. They have hosted two out of the three played games to date in the NBL Grand Final series, and are trailing the Perth Wildcats 1-2. Go a step further, and Perth are leading the series on the scoreboard 282-279. Sure, it was supposed to be a best of 5 game series, but the fact is the series is over the halfway mark, and one team is leading. There is also a precedent that was set this season.

Remember the Illawarra Hawks vs New Zealand Breakers ‘leaking roof’ game? The team leading late in the third term was awarded the win, and as the NBL put it at the time: “Under the rules, over a half of the game must be completed to declare a result. Given this has occurred in this instance, we believe this is the fairest outcome and the result will stand.”

Sure, different set of circumstances, but there are no winners when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. Ultimately the Kings quite rightly called it quits – but it’s remarkable the series was not shortened to three games by the league given the situation at hand! Tough decisions need to be made. It happens in junior basketball, in tournaments, where if more than half a game (or series in this case) has been played, and a game is called off, the team leading at the time is awarded the win. Even if the game was tied, there is usually a countback mechanism to determine a winner. There is always a result when it comes to a basketball game, and in this case series. It’s in the sport’s DNA and this NBL Grand Final series is no different.

Congratulations to the Perth Wildcats, 2019/20 NBL champions.

Matt Hickey

So, should Perth be crowned champions, or should no one take home the crown? I vote neither. Instead, wait for it, they should give it to the, drum roll, Taipans.

At the start of the season Cairns was a little like that cute dog on Instagram that everyone feels sorry for because it has a lazy eye. They looked no chance of competing but seemed to be most people’s 2nd team.

Enter the ultimate NBL glow up.

“Nek Minnit” they are beating the top teams in the league and have booked themselves a finals place. Sure, they didn’t quite get past Perth in the semi-finals, but at least if you gave Cairns the title everyone would probably be like, “That’s all right, good for them”.

Problem solved, you’re welcome NBL.

Ayush G

The Perth Wildcats have every right to be aggrieved with the speculated lack of co-operation from the Sydney Kings in achieving a definitive result. Coronavirus is a very real public health threat and not to be underestimated. However, we were nearing the end of the season. The final result was in sight. All we had to do was survive a few more days.

It’s not my place to suggest a solution, but there are definitely ways around this. The NRL, despite involving full contact, will be proceeding this weekend behind closed doors (as of Tuesday). Perhaps the NRL will regret their decision in a few weeks’ time, but regardless of where COVID-19 heads, the Wildcats are well within their rights to be agitated.

If I had to pick a winner, it's the Wildcats. While Sydney narrowly won the minor premiership, Perth's 2-1 finals lead and 3-1 regular season record over the Kings should tip the scales in their favour.

Michael Houben

I don't envy NBL decision makers trying to ajudicate an 'ultimate champion' in what are exceptional circumstances this season. There's legitimate arguments for both a 'non-result' and a Wildcats championship.

While I lean towards the latter, especially in light of claims that the Kings denied a change to a three game series, any result will be marred by a big asterisk regardless.

Almost every sporting league around the world is looking at lost or compromised seasons. With that in mind, I'm less concerned with awarding an arbitrary winner, and more interested in acknowledging the season as a major success, lest it be overshadowed by its anticlimactic finish.

In my eyes, the NBL and its fans were the real winners this season.

Ben Mallis

Talk about an impossible situation for the NBL. Only one thing is certain right now: the Kings cannot be awarded the title. At the same time, anyone criticising the Kings is missing the point. They put the safety of their families and friends above all else. That should be commended. It shows true leadership. The prospects of Western Australia shutting the borders, coupled with the obvious health concerns, makes staying home (or returning home for their international employees) a no brainer.

In deciding whether Perth should be named champions, the following question must be unpacked: why didn’t the series schedule and/or format get changed? And the impossible thing for all prognosticators on the outside is that only those behind the scenes know the answer.

Things turned political yesterday when the Wildcats addressed the media. Their frustrations were clear. They referenced a proposed three games series, in addition to an accelerated series schedule, and laid it on thick that Sydney wasn’t willing to cooperate. Now is this the truth? It’s impossible to know.

If the NBL and Wildcats were willing to shorten the series, and the Kings were the only party rejecting these attempts, then I feel comfortable awarding Perth the title. If this wasn’t the case, then there is no champion. This isn’t golf. It isn’t a closest to the pin situation. If a five game series was mandated, then we don’t have a champion. But once again, none of us know the answer to these questions. That’s probably a sign to just move.

There are rare times in life where humanity trumps sport. We are living through one of those moments. If we are being frank, the Kings made a decision yesterday that sporting bodies around the world are afraid to because of financial implications. Within a sporting context, it sucks, but the awarding of an NBL champion is an irrelevant footnote to what is becoming an historically challenging year for all of us.