The Final Whistle

17.07.2014

 The Final Whistle

If there’s one thing that annoys me endlessly it’s listening to uneducated reporters out there referring to basketball as being broken and not as successful as it was in the 80s and 90s. We’ve all heard it and I dare say that like me you are sick of it too.

Please … stop comparing today’s basketball to the NBL of the 80s and 90s. If anything, compare today’s NBL to the NBL of thirty years ago, but leave basketball at all other levels out of the argument. Today’s basketball at grassroots level is thriving. ABSOLUTELY THRIVING!

I’ll approach this edition of the whistle with a glass half full attitude and do my best to fill that glass to the absolute brim, and I’ll be more than happy if I have to clean up a mess if it flows over.

Given that grassroots basketball is thriving, how can we get the NBL back to a level of importance that has those same reporters falling over themselves to attend games and turn their reports into headlines?

How can we make the NBL bigger and better than ever before? How do we finally propel this league into a juggernaut that will finally be taken seriously and complement the undisputed mass of players at the grassroots level?

Whilst I’m not at the NBL coalface, I’m reliably informed that at NBL headquarters a number of strategic moves have been made since the league’s split from Basketball Australia, a change in direction that few would argue was badly needed given the national body itself lacks relevance to the underbelly of the game needs some sort of reform.

Given that some inroads are being made, I think the next step for the NBL is to shoot for the stars and acknowledge the one thing that can take it there – the NBA!

Right now Australia’s top basketball competition survives in the shadows of the NBA. The world’s most recognised hoops competition has become Australia’s premier basketball league - a fair effort given the NBA has never played a game on Aussie soil.

Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova and Dante Exum are bigger in value and connection with the Australian public than the whole NBL put together, three times over. In fact, LeBron James would probably give plenty of AFL clubs a run for their money if we’re talking exposure, dollars and cents!

Australians love the NBA. The masses that play the game out in club land are more connected with the NBA than they are with the NBL. I’d hate to think what the ratio is to be honest.

But remember, glass half full. Think positive. How can we take the NBL to the top of Australia’s sporting landscape and make basketball a relevant sport in the media and the commercial world?

Over the last 20 years so much has been written and spoken about the NBL, unfortunately most of it has been negative. All we hear about is low crowds, mediocre media coverage, struggling clubs, bankrupt clubs, defunct clubs, no connection with the grassroots and just a general lack of interest.

In my opinion, the man in the street sees the NBL as being broken. There’s not enough love for it and until we build some passion the fire will always barely be flickering. We need to make the fire roar and I think that the NBA is the answer.

In stark contrast to the NBL, we can get live NBA coverage, stats, fantasy leagues, pictures, videos, news and views at the drop of a hat. The NBL doesn’t stand a chance against that, not a hope.

Today’s kids would rather sit on their XBOX playing a game of NBA 2K14 than they would getting off the couch and heading out to catch an NBL game. In fact, they’d rather sit on the couch and watch their little brother play NBA 2K14 than go to an NBL game. Harsh, but we’ve got to stop kidding ourselves and start telling the top dogs that the NBA is here to stay and it can take the game to massive heights on Aussie soil.

The NBL has started an overhaul, but it’s time to go a step further. The old National Soccer League sliced and diced a broken product and came up with the A League. It’s hard to argue that the FFA’s vision hasn’t been successful.

Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about the same sort of slicing and dicing with the NBL? The league needs a fresh start, one that includes the NBA.

Ironically, we always hear about how strong basketball is at the junior level, about the game’s burgeoning participation numbers and how it is more popular amongst families than ever before, and then some scribe adds a jab by finishing with a jibe at the NBL and how basketball is stuffed.

As I wrote earlier, I’m sick of journalists telling me that basketball back in the 80s and 90s was huge and how ruined the game is now. No, you’re wrong. Basketball is stronger today than it was 30 years ago, much stronger.

The fact is that the NBL is weaker, not basketball. Get it right.

So, given we have such dynamic numbers and a real passion for the game out in the burbs and across regional areas, how do we refill the NBL glass and get the top league smacking us between the eyes with awesome games, non-stop entertainment and headlines week in, week out?

Firstly, we have to recognise what is working in this country and then we need to do everything we can to follow the leader or, even better, partner with the leader and ride on their coat tails.

Next question - who is leading the way? Who is doing well?

Now before you say the AFL, NRL, A League and Trans-Tasman Netball League dominate the market and we need to follow their lead, I totally disagree. Our greatest competitor is the NBA. Our sport is basketball, and the basketball leader in Australia is the NBA. They may not play one single game here, but the hearts and minds of our basketball fraternity sits with the NBA.  

We need to partner with the NBA, and the sooner the better. Dream big, nothing is impossible, as Melbourne Heart found out when they recently handed over the office keys to Manchester City.

I can tell you right now that the likes of the AFL will sit up and take notice if the NBL forged a partnership with the NBA. In fact every other sport would jump to attention. We need to fill that damn glass and have basketball spilling over the top.

If the NBA is our major competition, work with them. Find a way for the NBL to connect more visually and professionally with the NBA. Get them to the table and ask for help. Sell them a future in Australia and show them how much we love the NBA.

The Australian Baseball League recently welcomed financial support and partnered with Major League Baseball. For the baseball fraternity here in Australia it has been a fantastic and rewarding partnership, which included MLB games being played at the SCG earlier this year in front of massive crowds.

Back to the NBA; Dante Exum gets drafted and it led the news everywhere around Australia. LeBron James moved from Miami back to Cleveland and it dominated the headlines across our nation.

In the space of just over one week, I’d argue that more print space, airwaves and television time was given to Exum being drafted to Utah and LeBron James heading home than for all of the NBL in a whole season. Yes, the entire NBL season.  Anyone beg to differ?

Ok, so some suggestions, and remember that this is utopia and you always have to climb a few mountains and jump some hurdles to reach the clouds. So, here we go;

1)     Increase the NBL to 10 teams, with Brisbane coming back in as an absolute must. The NBL must have the biggest three cities along the eastern seaboard in the competition.

2)     Strike a deal with the NBA that will see three NBA teams linked with each NBL team. For example, the Clippers, Warriors and Kings become the ‘brother’ clubs of the Perth Wildcats. The same applies to each NBL club. All of a sudden we have a very real and visible link with the NBA, we have attachment, every NBL club has NBA influence – times three!

3)     Under the agreement, each of the three NBA clubs tied to their ‘brother’ NBL club would supply one development player, therefore providing each NBL team with three imports, all with an NBA connection. Think James Ennis times three at every NBL club. Think James Ennis times 30 across the NBL.

4)     Run the NBL season outside of the NBA season. A May to October season that helps fit with the NBA, plus it makes sure we aren’t competing with big brother, rather we are working with them. Don’t worry about competition with the AFL because the NBL’s greatest competition is the NBA.

5)     Now that we are working with the NBA, try and entice some of our ‘brother’ NBA teams out to do a pre-season camp in Australia. If we could get an NBA team here for a week it would bolster basketball’s coverage in the media, during the NBL season, one hundred fold.

6)     Next step, get an NBA game played on Aussie soil.

If we had 30 NBA development players participating in the NBL, the media would be all over it, the crowd numbers would go through the roof and television stations would start battling for the media rights. Basketball would be prime time and the kids would start connecting.

Bums on seats, singlets being sold, sponsors coughing up dollars, players becoming household names; the NBA is the answer and if we get it right that glass will never be anything but full again.

If we had NBA teams coming to Australia for pre-season camps it would create euphoria. It’s a no-brainer. Link the NBA to the NBL, feed off our undisputed basketball competitor and make them a partner.

Build a knock-dead proposal and sell it to them. I know we are small fries, but every juicy hamburger needs a serve of fries on the side.

It’s time to acknowledge that we are wasting our time trying to battle with the football codes for media space, forget it. Our greatest competitor is also our closest ally – we must find a way to buddy up with the NBA. If we do, basketball in this country at the highest level will take off.

Believe me, if we bring the NBA to the party you’ll soon see other sports showing some respect to basketball, and as for the media, they will be like moths to the flame.

In fact, the coverage and support for the game at all levels will reach new heights. Basketball would be back page news, and front page on some days for that matter! We have massive numbers in basketball, that’s the glass half full – now give them what they want and fill that glass.

We are very fortunate that the kids love basketball and the participation numbers continue to grow, but it’s time to give them what they want, and that’s the NBA! If we want our national league to grow and prosper, tap into what the masses want.

I’m sure there are many more ways for the NBL to connect with the NBA, I’ve listed but a few.

Over to you NBL, get some heavy hitters on the next plane to the USA and make it happen. The future of our national league may well depend on it.

Dream big! The Final Whistle has blown! 


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