Measured. Distinguished. Unflappable.
Typically, these are qualities that you would associate with a basketball executive, and you'd be able to pick them courtside from a mile away. Sporting immaculately tailored suits and skulking the sidelines with a stoic look of concern crossing their faces, they could be considered the very essence of professionalism.
Then, there’s Matt Walsh.
The New Zealand Breakers CEO strikes his own visage whenever he attends a game, though he more closely resembles a particularly tall member of the fanbase. Walsh is bombastic, polarising and cantankerous, and it has landed him in hot water more than a few times - most recently copping a two game suspension for trading barbs with NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger.
All of this to say, Matt Walsh is fun as hell.
The 36 year old is sweet nirvana for quotable headlines, and any savvy journalist could simply prod him for a soundbite on a whim. Fortunately, he tends to cut out the legwork, dispersing verbal gems like a gaudy American Santa Claus.
He described mercurial Breakers import Glen Rice Jr. as “potentially the biggest talent to ever come to the NBL”. He derided a list of the top 20 NBL players, as posted from the NBL’s official Twitter account, as “a list of guys who just happened to play in the NBL before”, going on to declare that “I’m washed up, haven’t played in 4 years, and still better than guys on this list”. He smoked out a leaker on the Breakers staff by planting a false rumour that Carmelo Anthony was working out with the team.
He marches to the beat of his own drum, this guy, and is quite unapologetic about the fact.
Since his arrival with the team in February of last year as part of an ownership consortium, Walsh has had his fingerprints all over the Breakers’ rebuild, leading to a mass exodus of established Kiwi staffers. Walsh had to play damage control on that one, reaffirming the team’s New Zealand identity.
Unfortunately, this tinkering has not yet led to on-court success, with the injury-ravaged Breakers currently sitting seventh on the ladder. Lumped with an ugly 2-6 record, it seems unlikely that they’ll return to the postseason, despite possessing a talented roster headlined by presumptive prodigy RJ Hampton.
Walsh’s latest transgression came after Hampton was ejected in a matchup with the Melbourne Phoenix. It comes attached with a $5,000 fine, and though it’s unclear what exactly Walsh said to Loeliger to warrant the punishment, Walsh’s animated gesticulations told enough of a tale of antagonism.
Why, then, do I love Matt Walsh so? Because he’s passionate. He’s interesting. You could consider him a fish out of water if you must, or proclaim that he is in over his head. He wouldn’t be the only one on the Breakers’ staff guilty of this; after their most recent loss, head coach Dan Shamir stated, “I don’t even know what we can do”.
The early returns are not there, and it’s easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Walsh’s big decisions are magnified under the spectre of failure, and moves that were initially seen as risky are suddenly blown up to seem disastrous.
But a wise man — I think it was Snagglepuss — once said, “in life you do not fight battles because you expect to win. You fight them merely because they need to be fought”.
Right now, Matt Walsh is fighting. It’s an uphill battle, and there’s sure to be a few setbacks and missteps along the way. However, you can hardly fault someone for trying to shake things up. Let’s circle back to the groundwork a little later, when we have the power of hindsight to guide our decisions.
No doubt, we’ll have enough juicy quotes to help sustain us along the way.