With cricket bleeding fans and ugly A-League scenes that plummeted football to a dark new low, the NBL is winning the hearts and minds of Australia’s summer sporting audience.
The NBL is Australia’s new national summer sport king.
The ugly scenes that marred the weekend’s A-League action, coupled with cricket’s floundering crowds and dwindling TV ratings have opened the door for basketball.
And, while it’s still early doors, the sport is flourishing, with the NBL’s fanbase growing by 130,000 since January 2021, according to a recent Neilsen sports profiling report. In that same period, the A-League’s support declined by 400,000 and the sport has shot itself in the foot by selling its grand final to the highest bidder in a move that blindsided fans.
It led to crowds at the weekend walking out of games all over the country in protest and a disgraceful pitch invasion in Melbourne that ended with a sickening attack on City goalkeeper Tom Glover, who was left with a deep gash to his face.
Nearly 400,000 people have attended NBL games to round nine, a 30 per cent jump on last season’s average attendance, and more than 960,000 fans are projected to go through a gate this season. This would be the most since Larry Kestelman assumed a majority stake in the league in 2014-15 making basketball one of the only major sports – including the AFL and NRL – to rebound and exceed pre-Covid attendance.
As the NBL experiences a 42 per cent jump in broadcast and streaming audiences on last season, the A-leagues have been shunted off Ten’s main channel, while cricket’s free-to-air viewership is so bad that Seven has launched legal action in a bid to get out of its current broadcasting deal.
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The Big Bash is on life support with too many games and international players flying in and out during the season. Marquee teams Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Stars opened the season in front of just 6000 fans. Three nights later, the Thunder were bowled out for a T20 record-low score of just 15. Did anyone bother watching the Windies’ embarrassing effort against the Aussies in this month’s Test series?
Sydney Kings have smashed their membership record two years running, Melbourne United is closing in on their record, Adelaide 36ers set a new high attendance mark at Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Tasmania’s home games are almost always full houses, South East Melbourne’s membership is 30 per cent up and Perth packs its stadium on the regular.
The NBL has made a concerted effort to market to families and an added emphasis on entertainment.
The Australian Open owns two weeks of summer but the NBL is winning the hearts and minds of the nation’s sporting public.
Mitch Creek needed someone, anyone, to stand up and help him.
With floor general Gary Browne and talisman Ryan Broekhoff both injured, Creek did absolutely everything in his power to get his team over the line against the reigning champion Sydney Kings in Traralgon.
The MVP candidate produced a remarkable 46-point masterclass in leading his side home in double overtime, despite import point guard Derrick Walton Jr’s 45-point effort.
All the plaudits go to Creek, and so they should, but the win wouldn’t have happened without teenage wunderkind Owen Foxwell.
The 19-year-old development player drew three last-quarter offensive fouls, produced a steal and a pair of clutch free throws to help force overtime in another flash of his brilliant future.
The Melbourne United v Illawarra Hawks game up the road at John Cain Arena was delayed by almost half an hour as the Phoenix and Kings traded blows in two extra periods.
The kid doesn’t look a day over 15, but plays like a seasoned vet every time he’s deployed by Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell.
Former Boomer and Phoenix star Adam Gibson believes he could one day be the best defender in the league.
Gibson said Foxwell’s defensive chops set him apart, likening him to perhaps the greatest small defender to ever play in the NBL in six-time Defensive Player of the Year Damian Martin.
He should know, too: Gibson won the league’s DPOY in 2009.
“Owen’s really strong now and he’s just a lockdown defender,” Gibson said.
“You’d play him on any team because he just plays that end of the floor.
“He’s going to get up and in, he’s going to rebound, he’s going to box out, he’s going to draw charges and, as a coach, that’s what you want.
That’s not to say he’s in Martin’s league — yet.
The league’s trophy for DPOY is named after the Peth great.
“The offence will come but he’s like a Damian Martin, just hounds the ball,” Gibson said.
“He’s not him yet, but that’s his style of play.”
Owen might get the headlines right now but his two younger brothers are breathing down his neck.
Both Joel, 17, and Austin, 15, are following in their brother’s footsteps, representing Rowville Secondary College at the Australian School Championships on the Gold Coast.
Gibson gets an up close look at the Foxwell boys every day as part of the coaching team at Rowville.
And he loves what he sees, with each boy possessing their own unique skill set.
“Joel’s a skilled offensive talent who can shoot and can get to the hoop,” Gibson said.
“He’s got more offensive firepower than Owen, for sure, but the flip side, his biggest thing, is going to be putting on size and getting stronger.
“If he can lock in the defensive end and make that a bit more of a focus, he’s a huge talent.”
Gibson says Austin is a flamethrower with unlimited range who can rip a game away in moments.
“He’ll make five threes in a row before you even know it,” Gibson said.
“It’s hard to say how good he will be, because he’s so little, but he’s got plenty of game.
“It’ll be interesting to see which one emerges as the best.”
Brisbane’s spiralling season has hit a new low with a listless 31-point capitulation at the hands of Adelaide.
It comes as embattled chief executive Peter McLennan was scheduled to appear on News Corp’s The Basketball Show to answer questions about the Bullets’ struggles, but pulled out at the last minute.
Crosscourt has also been told marquee men Nathan Sobey and Aron Baynes have clashed a number of times over playing style.
This was underlined on Saturday night when, according to NBL sideline reporter and Opals gold medallist Erin Phillips, the pair had a heated exchange during a time-out in the first half of the heavy defeat.
Both players came into the season off long-term injuries. Sobey, an explosive but ball-dominant guard, was the Bullets’ lone figurehead until Baynes was signed in the off-season.
Sobey prefers a faster pace but has been resistant to moving the ball through hands, while Baynes’ is most-efficient in half-court sets, either posting up, deep sealing closer to the hoop or picking and popping.
It’s caused friction between the pair, who had previously played together with the Boomers.
The bumbling Bullets, save for a short stretch in the second quarter, failed to give a yelp against Adelaide, allowing the 36ers to reach triple figures in a game for the first time this season in the 108-77 loss.
Sobey didn’t score in the second half to finish with just five points, including a lowly one of nine from the field (11.1 per cent) in 28 minutes on the floor.
Baynes had six points, shooting three of 12 from the field (25 per cent) while he added 11 rebounds and one assist during his 25-minute stint.
Amid a bizarre front office situation, where the relationship between McLennan and general manager Sam Mackinnon has become dysfunctional, the club is hunting for a fourth coach this season.
It comes as the playing group remain in the dark about Brisbane’s next coach.
The Bullets have been linked to Todd Purves, who has had stints in Indonesia and Macau, but the players have been told no coach has been offered a deal yet.
For the players’ sake, Brisbane officials must lock in a new coach as soon as possible, so the group can move forward with some clarity for the future.
Sydney’s championship-winning guard Ian Clark has signed with the Adelaide 36ers, but he’ll always be a King at heart.
After inking a deal to join Adelaide for the rest of NBL23, Clark phoned his former Kings’ teammates and officials to inform them he had linked with the 36ers.
The former Golden State Warriors’ guard loved his stint with Sydney last season and has high respect for everyone at the franchise.
It’s understood Clark has vowed to be a King again in the future, but he couldn’t knock back an opportunity at Adelaide.
It comes as the 36ers took a confusing line on the import’s signing.
By midmorning of their Saturday clash with the Brisbane Bullets, every man and his dog knew the Sixers had signed the former NBA champion.
Crosscourt has been told the contract was signed, but was yet to be ratified by the NBL.
Coach CJ Bruton must have been on a promise, because, in a pre-game interview with Opals and AFLW legend Erin Phillips, he did everything he could to avoid confirming Clark was on his way to the City of Churches.
“Haven’t signed anyone just yet it goes in through the NBL and comes out,” Bruton told Phillips as she probed for a nugget of information.
“That’s when we’ve signed someone. I like the name, I think he can really help this team, he’s been a successful player and he’ll contribute to the group if he’s the guy we get.
“First of all, we haven’t signed anyone, my lawyers tell me. I look forward to getting an import in here soon.”
Would it have hurt to say ‘hey, we’ve spoken to him and have a deal in place, we’re just waiting to get it ticked off by the NBL’?
Clark arrives in Adelaide next week and could suit up on Christmas Eve when the 36ers host the South East Melbourne Phoenix.
The NBL1 has added fresh AFL pedigree with retired Brisbane ruckman Archie Smith joining Queensland club South West Metro Pirates. Smith, from 2016-20 played 16 games across four seasons with the Lions before he retired, revealing the harrowing toll of the death by suicide of his brother.
The 201cm high-flyer comes with NBA and NBL pedigree, father Andre Moore played with the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks in the 1980s, before an 11-year NBL career.
NBL1 continues to add marquee names, with several NBL players choosing to stay in Australia and play in the second-tier league over winter.
The Cairns Taipans solidified their championship contender credentials on Saturday night with an impressive come-from-behind win over the JackJumpers in Tasmania.
There is no tougher place to win in the NBL than in Tassie, but the Taipans displayed commendable fight to beat the JackJumpers on the back of a 11-0 run late in the fourth quarter.
Star big man Keanu Pinder was brilliant for Cairns, finishing with a game-high 34 points while adding seven rebounds.
Cairns have surged into third position, just one win behind the second-placed New Zealand Breakers.
It’s been a stellar season for the Taipans, considering they finished ninth last season.
The Illawarra Hawks’ new CEO Stu Taggart has vowed to deliver “something special” to the struggling club, but not all Hawks fans are convinced.
Taggart is an accomplished sports executive with a CV that includes senior leadership roles in rugby, football and major events.
Most recently, he was the CEO of the UCI Road World Cycling Championships held in Wollongong in September.
It was the largest-ever event in Wollongong and Taggart hopes to replicate this in basketball via the Hawks.
“I am excited to have the chance to build on the success of the UCI Road World Championships for our city and to work with a brand that our community truly loves,” Taggart said.
“Basketball is also on a strong growth trajectory here in Australia, so it’s a great time to get involved.”
Hawks fans took to social media to question Taggart’s appointment, one supporter branding the cycling championships as a “commercial disaster”.
“The guy that manufactured the commercial disaster of the UCI, promising 300,000 spectators,” the fan said.
“They told all the cafes and businesses to carry extra stock, put on extra staff, open extra hours.
“Then we all went bust for two weeks because it was a fantasy.
“Then they tell us UCI pulled 200,000 spectators – but none of them happened to buy a sandwich or drink a coffee for the whole time they were here perhaps?
“That’s the guy you bring in as the answer to our low spectator numbers?”
A key part of Taggart’s focus as Hawks’ boss will be the establishment of an elite-performance facility in the Illawarra to ensure the club stays in the region for years to come.
“Contrary to the comments, hopefully (he) can leverage his contacts, both govt and private sectors, with funding for the local community and improve basketball facilities at grassroots level,” another fan wrote.
Originally published as Crosscourt: Likes and dislikes from round 11 of the 2023 NBL season
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