The Final Whistle



The content of the article are the views of the author and do not reflect the views of Big V.’


This isn’t a loaded question or statement, but I can’t help but feel  there is a growing feeling amongst the basketball fraternity that if the sport doesn’t hurry up and ‘get it right’ at the top then we, and I say we as it is a collective, are headed for an interesting future in what is an increasingly competitive market.

As other sports prosper via strong administration, fruitful media deals and increased participation, basketball continues to search for strong yet inclusive leadership at the highest level, along with a focus of bringing the game across all levels together.

Basketball’s share of media coverage, corporate dollars and overall significance in the broader community has been waning for some time. Yes, we all agree we have strong junior numbers, but other sports continue to reap the rewards of junior participation far better than what basketball does.

Be mindful that I’m talking across the board here. Some state and/or regions are scoring some goals, but my focus is on the top shelf.

Within the basketball fraternity, the murmur of discontent is getting louder, it’s now a case of how we deal with it, and I for one would rather be proactive rather than reactive.

Too many people in basketball live with a siege mentality, which by far and away is the biggest threat to our game. In the sporting world we aren’t alone. We really struggle to work strongly enough together for the betterment of the sport as a whole, and that is something that the top office in the country needs to take on board as well.

The amount of times I hear people talk about feeling disconnected is ridiculous. In our hands we have a massive sport, a fun and inclusive sport that enjoys incredible participation numbers, yet we have this feeling of being disconnected from each other and, more importantly, from the game’s decision-makers. Why? How?

The saving grace of course is that large participation numbers, particularly at junior level, ensures that the game goes on. The downside is that ultimately that level of disconnect down the line impacts on national products and agreements, or lack thereof.

How many people can tell you who the current captain of the Boomers, Opals or every NBL and WNBL team is? How many people can tell you the major sponsors of our national teams?

Are viewer numbers or bums on seats at national league games up or down? When there is a disconnect in a sport, the rank and file usually vote by staying away from the higher-end product.

A very similar example exists in the AFL as we speak. A disconnect between the top office and the supporters around variable ticket pricing is leading to negativity and people choosing to stay away.

It’s not rocket science, it is human nature. If people aren’t valued or aren’t being included or appreciated, they’ll find something else to do. That’s how we react.

In the past people have told me that dreaming too big in basketball is a recipe for failure, we aren’t the AFL and we never will be. We can’t compete with the big dogs, so why try?

Let me tell you, the day we stop dreaming big and think we can’t compete with the big dogs is the day we should all give it away. Why can’t we get big crowds, great media deals and larger corporate support in basketball? Who says we can’t do it? We can do it, but only if we work together and have a strong leader to follow.

Earlier this week Basketball Australia CEO Kristina Keneally stepped down, adding yet another chapter to what has been a tough role to fill with the right person. Question is; are we looking in the right places for a truly great leader?

Though former players, coaches, people from other sports and now politicians have all had a crack at the top job, it’s a stretch to say any or all of them have brought the basketball community closer together. And, I think we would all agree that to the eyes of the broader community basketball isn’t as visually big on the main stage here in Australia as it once was, or could be.

Not one of basketball’s former top leaders, and I stand to be corrected and/or argued down from this position, have successfully brought basketball together to a point where all levels of the game are working together for the betterment, development and sustainability of the game.

Now that’s not to say they haven’t tried. And I’m sure that Kristina and those before her have all had some levels of success in some areas of trying to build better platforms going forward. It’s not all doom and gloom, but my view is that it’s a revolving chair that has failed to bring all levels of the game closer together to the point that the game feels like it is and is seen as moving forward, together.

Perhaps it’s pie in the sky stuff? Maybe the sport as large as it is from a participation point is too far down the road to effectively and efficiently change its ways, to work and prosper together?

Maybe, for some reason, we simply can’t or won’t change the culture. However, maybe, just maybe, we are one future-thinking, people-power leader away from turning the corner?

Is the glass half empty or half full?

The fact is that way too many people within the game talk about basketball not being or doing its absolute best because we are or feel disjointed from top to bottom. The feeling of separation is most certainly there.

So how do we fix it?

Well, yet again an opportunity has opened up for Basketball Australia as the search begins for a new CEO, but this time I urge them to think outside the square.

On behalf of the people, Basketball Australia, please find a leader who is a people person, who wants to listen and work with people across all levels of the game, especially at grassroots level. A person who wants to be seen at an under 8 domestic game as much as being seen at a Boomers international game.

We need a person who has come through the fabric of the game, at a club level, who understands the needs and the wants of those involved in the game. We don’t need someone who has a business, economics or law degree. Let the new CEO surround themselves with the best possible people to cover those areas. Let’s get a people person who will roll up their sleeves, be seen and be heard, and one who understands the mums, dads and players down at the local basketball club.

I’m not sure why we believe leaders in sport have to come from high-profile backgrounds, be financial geniuses or a big success in the business world? Yes, they have to possess solid attributes around management and strategic thinking, but first and foremost they have to be a leader of people, for the people.

We’ve tried everything else, so why not get back to basics and find a leader who will be followed?

Being a great leader isn’t about leading, it’s about being followed.

For far too long this sport has missed opportunities and we need to turn that around by thinking about the man in the street, the families who participate in the game along with the corporate world that wants to connect with our massive fraternity.

We all know we can do better, but are we willing to try. Please, don’t go back to the same water well, do something different, step out on a ledge and take a risk. Let’s find a person who can lead our people and who will be followed by our people.

We have to stop missing opportunities. Speaking of which, and changing direction just for a moment, let me give you a great example of a missed opportunity by our sport.

Many of you will have heard the recent negative publicity surrounding Opals player Abby Bishop and her withdrawal from the national team due to a parenting policy implemented by Basketball Australia.

Whether you agree or disagree with the policy is one thing, national bodies have to make decisions and not everyone will agree with every decision made, but what a massive missed opportunity by Basketball Australia on this one. Hello, think outside the square!

Instead of all the bad publicity and opinion, what we should have heard is how brave and courageous Abby is, how supportive the whole basketball community is to her current position and how proud we are of Abby for taking on the responsibility of caring for her niece full-time.

It’s a great story, a strong family message. What a fantastic message to send out to all basketball families ….. We support Abby, we support basketball families, we are proud of Abby. Families are the lifeblood of basketball and we respect how tough it can be to juggle everything life dishes up. We are doing everything in our power to help Abby.

Imagine the reaction if that was the message that was sent out?

What’s more, talk about a missed opportunity for positive media and potentially an opportunity to make some vital inroads into the corporate world.

Imagine if you picked up a newspaper with a photo of Abby and her niece on the front page asking for help from the corporate world, with Basketball Australia talking about how proud and supportive of Abby they are and that as a national women’s sport, with hundreds of thousands of junior players, the game needs more corporate support so as we can support and help assist Abby and others who may be in her position in the future.

Wow! Now that’s a totally different message and I can assure you having been in the world of sponsorship and marketing for many years that more than a few companies would have come knocking on Basketball Australia’s door and telling them that they want to be a part of a sports organisation that shows that sort of support for one of their own.

I can think of so many companies who would instantly want to be a part of game with those values and be seen to support an elite athlete who has strong family values.

The message it would have sent to families is enormous. The chance to bring the basketball fraternity closer together was missed. Every single player in our game has a family to some degree and the chance to send the strongest possible vote of support and confidence for our and to our families flew out the door.

However, due to whatever transpired in making and delivering the BA parenting policy, all we have heard and seen is negative publicity. For heaven’s sake, nearly half of the game’s participation numbers are female and the game is supported by and reliant upon families, mum’s included!

Not only was the wrong message sent out, and boy did the media have a field-day with it, but a fantastic opportunity to be supportive and positive has been totally missed. Families are our lifeblood.

Again, decisions need to be made at the top office, I get that, but was the whole game, from top to bottom and the message such a decision would send to the whole fraternity thought about before Abby received that call?

And this gets me back to my original point - Basketball Australia needs to find a people person, someone who knows grassroots basketball, who can relate to the families, the junior players, the coaches, the administrators, the volunteers and the officials.

We need a leader who will press the flesh, who will listen and acknowledge the experience and dedication of those down the food chain. We’ve tried those with great playing credentials and those with degrees and former high-profile jobs. Maybe it’s time for a re-think?

I vote for someone from grassroots level who can and will lead the game for the people, but regardless of what I think, please find someone who will be followed because that’s what will make them a great leader for basketball.

Remember, being a great leader isn’t about leading, it’s about being followed.

The Final Whistle has blown! 


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