The National Basketball League is regarded as one of the premier basketball leagues in the world, and after a humble beginning, is today home to some of the world’s best players.
In 1978, New South Wales Basketball president John Raschke sat with 10 interested parties in an unused aircraft hangar at Sydney Airport to discuss the formation of a national competition that would help the development of the sport throughout Australia.
A national competition was also seen as a way of improving the standard of players who would compete for Australia at events such as the Olympic Games and World Championships.
Since that day, the NBL has grown from a fledgling competition with games played in front of just a few hundred people to a league that attracts more than 750,000 spectators each season, as well as prime-time television audiences for games broadcast nationally.
While games were initially played in small suburban stadiums, clubs now perform at major Australian arenas, including Perth Arena which can seat 14,000+ spectators.
Basketball also has one of the highest participation rates of any team sport in Australia, with numbers continuing to grow each year.
Between 1979 and 1997, the NBL season was played between April and September, but in 1998 the league moved its season to the summer place, with games played between October and April.
Eight teams currently compete in the NBL – the Adelaide 36ers, Cairns Taipans, Melbourne United, New Zealand Breakers, Perth Wildcats, Sydney Kings, Townsville Crocodiles and Illawarra Hawks.
Of these clubs, Illawarra competed in the first NBL season in 1979, alongside the St Kilda Saints, Nunawading Spectres, West Adelaide Bearcats, City of Sydney Astronauts, Newcastle Falcons, Canberra Cannons, Bankstown Bruins, and Glenelg Tigers.
St Kilda won the inaugural NBL Championship and repeated its success in 1980, but withdrew from the 1981 finals to compete in the World Club Championships. Launceston went on to win the 1981 title.
The Perth Wildcats have won six championships to lead the league in titles won. The Wildcats won their most recent title in 2010, defeating the Wollongong Hawks.
The Sydney Kings won the trophy an amazing three years in a row from 2003 to 2005 and returned to the Grand Final in 2006 before being defeated by the Melbourne Tigers, who took home their third title.
Since then, the New Zealand Breakers were also able to achieve the three-peat mark, taking home championships in the 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13 seasons under the guidance of Andrej Lemanis. This was followed by a championship under Lemanis’ replacement, Dean Vickerman in 2014/15.
Former 36ers head coach Phil Smyth has been associated with more NBL championships than any man in league history, having won a total of six, three as a player and three as a head coach. In addition to Smyth, Brian Goorjian has won six championships as a coach, while the only players to have completed this feat are David Stiff and CJ Bruton, also with six rings to their name.
Some of the NBL’s greatest players include five-time Olympian Andrew Gaze, brilliant 21-season scoring-machine Leroy Loggins, five-time championship-winner Larry Sengstock, and 500-game veterans Ray Borner and James Crawford.
A seven-time winner of the NBL’s Most Valuable Player award, Andrew Gaze was Australia’s most recognised player, having competed at five Olympics and four World Championship tournaments.
Gaze is the NBL’s all-time leading scorer with more than 17,000 points, and he led the league in scoring a record 14 times.
All-time great players, coaches and administrators are honoured in the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame. In order to be eligible for the Hall of Fame, a player or head coach must have been retired for at least four years.
Annual awards presented by the NBL include the prestigious Most Valuable Player award, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Best Sixth Man, Best Defensive Player, and Coach of the Year.
In addition, an All-NBL First Team is named, and is made up of the leading five players in the league from that season.