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Is there room on the court?

Not many people have been talking about the commencement of the NBL. Joshua Jeans looks at whether there is room for an elite basketball competition in Australia.

When it comes to men’s elite sport, Melbourne is host to nine AFL teams, two A-League teams and is represented in both the NRL and Super 15 rugby competitions.

Source. National Basketball League

So you might be forgiven if you were to forget that we also host an NBL basketball team, the Melbourne Tigers.

When I asked people when the NBL season started, the most common response I received was a shrug of the shoulders. And for those who don’t know, the answer is it has started, this past weekend in fact.

So it brings into question, does anybody care about basketball in Australia? And is there room for a national competition?

‘There are thousands of kids playing basketball around Australia so there is definitely a market there,’ says new Melbourne Tigers recruit, Chris Goulding.

‘It’s a matter of getting people in the door, but once they are there, they fall in love with it, the atmosphere, the entertainment, it’s great.

‘Like in every sport you get fans by winning games and we plan on winning a lot.’

The NBL is not without its critics though and the question of the league’s survival has been a talking point for some time.

But can you blame those who question its existence? The league’s history is anything but stable.

Teams have come and gone and attendances have been up and down, something Goulding knows all to well.

Beginning his career with the Brisbane Bullets, no doubt a high in any young basketballer’s career, to then seeing its demise when the club folded, Goulding has seen the best and the worst of the NBL.

‘There was a period where the league was struggling, but its back on track, and looking stronger,’ Goulding says.

He may be right.

The average attendance to an NBL match during the regular season last year showed a 20% increase from crowds witnessed in 2009/10. So on that note, the NBL must be doing something right.

Yes, average attendance is just over 4,100, not a figure that would see people take an immediate notice. But the NBL are planning for that number to grow, with the Perth Wildcats set to be playing in a stadium the hosts around 15,000 people, and the Tigers to play at Hisense arena, capable of seating 10,000.

‘Now that there is no AFL and the Rugby is finished, there is plenty of room for a premiere basketball team, especially in a big city like Melbourne,’ Goulding says.

‘It’s a great league and it’s such a high quality of basketball; I don’t think people realise the quality.’

Goulding makes a valid point; sometimes Australians don’t realise the quality of basketball on show in our own backyard.

We are privileged in Australia for the quality of sport on offer, and the stars we produce. But expecting the NBL to be as big as the NBA is unrealistic and unfair. Accepting that the quality is premiere and elite should be a reality.

The league has players and coaches who have been apart of and associated with teams in the NBA and across Europe, so the experience and talent is there.

‘It’s a matter of getting the publicity up,’ Goulding says.

‘The owners have been doing a great job, and they’re trying to get the publicity up.’

‘The new TV rights deal with Channel Ten and NBL.TV is great and it can only be good for the sport.’

The challenge for the NBL is to appeal to its younger audience so that those ‘kids’ playing in various basketball competitions across Australia decide to stay on the court rather than give it up for footy or other sports.

Scott Pendlebury, Jarrad Roughead and Kurt Tippett were all talented basketballers who decided to switch codes.

One can only assume that the prospects of being an AFL footballer was more appealing than applying and committing themselves to a league that looked to be struggling for survival.

Goulding says that ‘we need to help these kids move in to the elite level, and I think clubs like the Melbourne Tigers are good at doing that.’

Joshua Jeans is a final-year Bachelor of Media Studies student at La Trobe University and is upstart’s current sports editor. You can follow him on Twitter: @jeansjoshua


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