Hoop, There it is!Most sports enjoy a ‘golden age’. Think John Eales’ Wallabies, Tina Turner’s rugby league and Kieren Perkins’ 1500 metres. Has Australian basketball, more specifically the NBL, had its? Or is Ben Simmons edging it to climax as we speak?
Some might say the late ‘80s and ‘90s were when the NBL peaked like a teenager at Splendour in the Grass – the days of ‘Leapin’ Leroy Loggins, ‘Neon’ Leon Trimmingham, ‘Slammin’ Sam Mackinnon and Andrew Gaze, whose dominant Melbourne Tigers team boasted one of the ugliest uniforms the sporting world has ever seen. Kids were trading basketball cards in the streets like crack cocaine (albeit NBA ones) and spending hours in front of screens playing NBA Jam.
Sadly, kids these days are prob- ably dealing actual crack cocaine in the streets and spending hours in front of their screens killing virtual people, most likely watching pornography too, but the NBL didn’t have to compete with that back then. It does now, though, and sadly, apart from Andrew Bogut, I honestly can’t freely name a current NBL player.
The return of Bogut to our shores, while touted as the prodigal son returned to take our game to the next level, is little more than an old bloke who has suffered too many injuries and is coming home to where he’s still wanted. Don’t get me wrong, I think Bogut’s a great player, but he’s not the saviour the game needs. People don’t go to the basketball to see the screeners, rebounders and body-on-the-court big men, they go for the superstars like LeBron James, Michael Jordan and yes, even Neon Leon and Leapin’ Leroy – I won’t say Andrew Gaze, because the bloke strikes me as being more suited as a Wiggle than a sporting hero (though he was also a great player).
The saviour of Australian basketball is not Bogut, but could be Ben Simmons. He is a genuine superstar and the local press has become almost annoyingly enamoured by him. It can be frustrating as a 76ers fan (pre-Simmons, which trying to get anyone to believe has become a whole different frustration) to see headlines solely focused on him. Often you have to wait until the end of an article before they actually tell you who won the game, such is the obsessive focus on Simmons and his stat line. He is a genuine freak, though, and, in what seems to be a sad rarity among our young and talented sports folk, he’s also quite likeable.
Will Simmons ever play in the NBL? I doubt it. He has stated (jokingly) he would like to play one season of AFL before his sporting career is all done and dusted, and a big part of me thinks that’s actually more likely.
Still, the NBL should be scram- bling all jets to bring Mr Simmons home. A handshake deal, somewhere along the line, might be the thing that assures it. Money won’t do it – he’ll earn more over his career than the entire NBL combined – but a heartfelt chat with the right person might prove just the gin to Australian basketball’s tonic. So, NBL, get chatting.