There was no question already that Shawn Redhage was an all-time great of the Perth Wildcats coming into this season.
But to see the one time ‘Scoring Machine’ accept a lesser role and be the ultimate teammate on the way to winning a fourth championship deserves to earn him the utmost respect.
For someone who earned his nickname because of the incredible numbers he would produce early in his career with the Wildcats arriving for the 2005/06 season on the back of dominant SEABL form and an ill-fated stop at the New Zealand Breakers, accepting a lesser role is never easy.
It might have been the easy way for Redhage to bow out at the end of last season after winning his third NBL championship especially when told by Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson that if he played in 2016/17 that he would spend significant minutes riding the bench.
However, not once did Redhage drop his head or let it bother him. Instead, he was the ultimate teammate and veteran leader helping his team and younger teammates in any way he could while also being ready to go anytime Gleeson called upon him.
That saw Redhage play some important cameo roles but for someone to check his ego at the door having been one of the most prolific players in the league and at the Wildcats is something that deserves to earn him tremendous respect.
The rewards for his efforts all season long were that he got to start in Sunday’s Grand Final Game 3 against the Illawarra Hawks in front of 13,611 fans at Perth Arena. By the end got to lift the NBL championship to say farewell to his career with a fourth title.
Considering Redhage went through his first four seasons putting up stunning individual numbers but not reaching a Grand Final, to have now won four championships and played in six Grand Finals in the past eight seasons is remarkable.
The 36-year-old retires after 393 games in the NBL of which 380 are with the Wildcats leaving him second only behind Ricky Grace.
He also joins Grace as a six-time club MVP to go with his four championships, and it is only a matter of time until his No. 42 will join Mike Ellis, James Crawford, Scott Fenton, Ricky Grace, Andrew Vlahov and Scott Fisher in the rafters at Perth Arena.
Speaking to NBL Media directly after he helped the Wildcats to the 95-86 Game 3 win to claim his fourth and the club’s eighth NBL championship, Redhage was still a little lost for words at the achievement.
“It’s a surreal moment right now,” Redhage said.
“There is the excitement of winning a championship but in the back of the mind as well you know this is the last time you are going to take that court and play in front of the Red Army, and with these teammates.
“It has been an incredible journey and there is a wave of emotions, but I’m extremely proud of this team and how it’s all ended.”
Redhage has always been a big favourite of the Perth fans ever since they saw the heart he played with in the early days. Once he announced his retirement late this season, the love from the Red Army any time he hit the floor was remarkable.
Then with Matt Knight sitting out Game 3 on Sunday, Redhage was inserted into the starting line-up reminiscent of then coach Rob Beveridge starting Martin Cattalini in Game 1 of the 2010 Grand Final also against the Hawks in his 450th NBL game in his final season.
The Perth crowd erupted once Redhage was introduced and lifted once more when, after picking up two early fouls, he delivered a trademark spin move and floater to help the ‘Cats to the 12-0 start.
He again checked in late in the game to another raucous ovation before receiving plenty more after the final buzzer. It’s something he will never forget.
“You are just so focused on your game but when you hear the crowd and the energy they gave us, it meant a lot to me,” he said.
“As a basketball player, you want to be out there on the court and helping the team, and to be out there from the start is something I will remember for a long time.”
Redhage averaged 20.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists in his opening 135 games in Perth.
He went on to win the club’s MVP award in his first six straight seasons topped off with being captain of the 2010 championship.
His career was then put in serious jeopardy with a car crash like injury suffered in Adelaide late in the 2010/11 season. He was told he wouldn’t run again, let alone play.
But he was ready to go for the start of the 2011/12 season proving all his doubters wrong and has played in three more championships since.
However, having to accept a lesser role having been the main man particularly in his first six seasons did take some adjusting. Particularly this season when he would go long periods without hitting the floor.
For someone who was a superstar and is a legend of his club to accept that does take some swallowing of pride, but Redhage was willing to because he wasn’t yet ready to retire.
“Last year I wasn’t ready to give it up, but now I am. I think it probably just gives it a little bit more meaning as well to be able to end it with a championship,” Redhage said.
“If we weren’t contending then it would have been tough to not play many minutes, but to play on a team that ends up winning the championship you have no complaints over your role and you just want to help however you can.
“I still love the game and you play the game because you have a love for it. I’ve had times earlier in my career and back in college when I wasn’t playing much, but I still loved the game and if I didn’t have that drive I wouldn’t have played this year.
“But I felt like no matter what the role was going to be that I was prepared to be ready when my time came to get on the court. I’m proud of the teammate that I was to this team and it’s something that I will always be happy about doing.
“Everyone wants to have the ball in their hands, but in a team sport everyone has to play their role and when all the guys buy into that things like championships happen and it makes it all worth it.”
Redhage will now retire after 12 seasons and 380 games at the Wildcats having helped the club’s Finals streak go from 19 consecutive years to 31, and the four championships turn into eight.
But only a month ago neither looked likely to happen.
The Wildcats’ Finals streak was in big trouble and they looked far from a title threat.
However, the arrival of Bryce Cotton gave them that spark as did the return of captain Damian Martin, and once they beat Cairns on the road in Game 1 of the semi finals Redhage was a believer.
“There was always a belief and then the big win was when we beat Cairns in Game 1 on the road. That was the big change for us and that was one of the best games we had played all season, and to win on the road in the playoffs I know that during my career that doesn’t happen too often,” Redhage said.
“I knew at that point that it was definitely a great chance that we could end up here. We had to battle to get there in the first place and the playoffs started early for us, so to get the championship at the end of it after the pressure we were under in every game is huge.”
Redhage had achieved everything with the Wildcats except being part of back-to-back championships.
The ‘Cats had only ever done that once previously back in 1990 and 91, but trying to do that was a motivating factor for Redhage coming into the season. Now to say he was part of it will be something that will always be one of his proudest achievements.
“After we won it last year, as a group we hadn’t gone back-to-back and we had that real drive to do it. The hardest one always seems to be the second one so credit to New Zealand for winning three straight, but this is the first time we’ve gone back-to-back,” he said.
“It’s incredible. You play to get the best out of yourself and there isn’t a guy who starts any season that doesn’t want to win a championship, but for us to actually do it and to go back-to-back this year is huge.
“As soon as you win a championship you’ve got that mark on you and being a Wildcat you have that all the time, so I’m extremely proud. The championships are what you will remember most and that’s what I’m proud of the most when I look back on my career.
“I’m extremely proud that we got this second one and I’m excited to see how this team goes next year to see if they can continue the streak.”
And what does a six-time club MVP and four-time NBL championship winner do once his 393-game career is over? He begins playing in the WA State Basketball League of course.
Redhage will play his first season in the SBL at the Perth Redbacks with former Wildcat Nik Lackovic his coach and two of his former development player teammates from the ‘Cats, Joel Wagner and Michael Vigor there as well.
He will be there for the season-opener against the Rockingham Flames on Friday March 17.
“I’ve never been one to take much time off and nothing has changed. I’ll be there for Round 1 with the Redbacks,” Redhage said.
“I still love to play and the worst thing as a player, especially as you get older, is trying to get back into shape so I’m not going to take any time off and I’ll just keep going all the way through.
“This is the freshest I’ve ever felt at the end of a season and even on Saturday I was getting a massage, and I had no sore spots to show to the masseuse. So I was ready for more minutes on Sunday and now I’m ready to go in the next phase of my career.”
Written for NBL.com.au by Chris Pike.