After a great podcast last month with FIBA and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Lindsay Gaze which reflected on the early years of the NBL from a Victorian perspective, we decided to get a New South Wales point of view by interviewing NBL Hall of Famer Bob Turner.
Bob Turner came to Australia in 1976 to play with the Shoalhaven Tigers in the NSW State League after captaining college basketball team, the University of California Santa Barbara.
In 1979 Bob was appointed player/coach of the Newcastle Falcons at age 25 in the inaugural NBL season, as a decision made by the founder of the NBL Dr John Raschke.
Bob retired from playing in 1981 and took on the role of Director of Coaching/Head Coach for Newcastle Basketball and the Newcastle Falcons.
Bob was recruited by NSW basketball rival team, the Canberra Cannons at age 29 as the first full-time coach/marketer in the NBL. The Cannons not only won the National Championship in his first season but achieved NBL record crowds, generated a record profit/loss result for the club and set a standard in marketing which other NBL teams strived for.
This included renaming the National Indoor Sports Centre to “The Palace” and introduced the use of corporate boxes to the NBL.
For four years straight the Canberra Cannons became the trendsetters of the NBL with crowds regularly reaching standing room only and making a substantial profit.
Bob became the youngest Coach in NBL history to win an NBL championship and youngest to win back-to-back Championships.
In 1986 Bob became one of the first private owners of an NBL team when he assisted in the process to have the Canberra Cannons taken into private hands.
In 1988 he left the NBL to focus on promoting events for Basketball Australia. He conducted all 1988 pre-Olympic Basketball tours for the Boomers and Opals in Australia, this included a six-game, six-city tour by Soviet Union Men’s Team in 1987 & 1988 which played in front of full houses and national television audiences, a first for the national team.
In 1988 the opportunity to be involved with the recently formed Sydney Kings as their Head Coach/Marketer was too good to refuse.
As the Marketing Manager, Bob introduced corporate box packages and promotions which he had developed in Canberra and on National tours, which doubled the crowds, sponsorship and income in the first year to become one of the most profitable clubs in league history during his first year at the club.
From a coaching perspective, he made only one player personnel change (a bench player) to a team which finished the previous year 10-14 to losing to defending champions, Canberra, in the semifinals.
Bob facilitated the Kings move from the 4,200 seat Homebush State Sports Centre to the 10,400 seat Sydney Entertainment Centre.
In 1992 the Sydney Kings sold out the 10,400 seat entertainment centre in all but one NBL game that season.
As a “side project” Bob was part of the marketing team for Oz 94, a hugely successful Women’s FIBA World Championship tournament which was held across Australia with the finals held at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. This tournament laid the foundations for the rise of female basketball in Australia and the Olympic success the Opals basketball program would have for the next 20 years.
Over seven years with Turner at the helm as coach and marketer, the Kings averaged a profit in excess of $1 million and over the six seasons at the Entertainment Centre averaged crowds of over 80% capacity (approx 8500).
Bob returned to assist the growth of Basketball Australia in 1995 as Director of Marketing for Basketball Australia with the main task of raising the profile of the National teams, the Boomers and Opals.
From 1996-2000 promoted over 16 International Test series for the Boomers and Opals and in 1998 devised the concept and structure of Team Basketball Australia to unify the basketball community throughout Australia. During that time Bob was a part of promoting the ‘Oz 97” event which held the FIBA World Championships for Under 23 Men hosted by Basketball Australia in Melbourne at Melbourne Park. Bob was the commentator for all televised games and MC for the Final proceedings.
Turner coached the Men’s Paralympic Basketball team in the World Championships in 1998 and the 2000 Paralympics held in Sydney. During his time with the team, he began promoting them as ‘Rollers’ which is still their nickname today.
Taking a quick break from basketball, Bob Turner his experience and attention to marketing the Australian Baseball Federation and the Australian Baseball League but the break didn’t last long. In 2005 Bob handled negotiations with the Singapore Government, NBL and FIBA which resulted in the first professional sports team for Singapore and international expansion for the NBL.
The Slingers withdrew from the struggling Australian League in July 2008 in preference to playing games in the Asian region, initially through a ‘Challenge Series’. Bob, the Slingers and Chairman, Tony Fernandes from AirAsia then created the ASEAN Basketball League (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) with the Slingers being the first team entered into the league.
The ASEAN Basketball League (commonly known as the ABL) is the first and only regional professional basketball league in Asia and now includes teams from China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.
In 2010 Bob turned his attention and skills back to the resurrection of a premier sporting brand in Australia, the Sydney Kings.
After a two year absence and a string of financial problems, the team re-entered the NBL competition on October 16, 2010, in front of a full house crowd of 10,400 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Despite a string of fourteen straight losses and the team coming last in the competition, the Kings attracted a crowd of 9,535 in the final home game of the season.
Despite the poor result in their first year returning to the NBL, the Kings lead the NBL in average attendance, web traffic and merchandise sales with Bob being the driving force as the club’s General Manager.
Topics discussed on the podcast include;
- Will we see a new NBL team before next season? (2:00)
- How did Bob Turner spend his time in 1979 helping to grow the NBL as a part of the Newcastle Falcons (11:00)
- Juggling the role of a player-coach in the NBL (14:30)
- Phil Smyth, Herb McEachin and winning back to back titles with the Canberra Cannons in 1983-84 (17:30)
- Promoting the 1988 tour of the Soviet Men’s national team and what it meant to the Boomers development (26:00)
- What it took to put basketball on the map in Sydney in the 80’s and 90’s (31:00)
- Looking at the Sydney Kings season this year, what should the be doing to turn things around (37:00)
- Secrets to marketing NBL teams (44:00)
- Memories of coaching stars like Dwayne McClain, Leon Trimmingham and Dean Uthoff (52:00)
- How the Singapore Slingers are one of the biggest success stories that no one knows about (57:30)
- The difficulty of expanding the NBL and what would be the best way to introduce new teams into the league? (106:00)
- Who was the one player that Bob always wanted to bring to the Sydney Kings that he was never able to (117:00)
- NBL Head Coach – 14 years
- Head Coach – 19 years
- NBL Hall of Fame
- Youngest Coach to win an NBL title
- NBL owner – Canberra Cannons 1986, Sydney Kings 2000, Singapore Slingers 2006
- Twelve-year association as Coach/Owner/Executive Director/General Manager of the Sydney Kings.
- 20 NBL seasons with Newcastle Falcons (1979 to 1982), Canberra Cannons (1983 to 1986), Sydney Kings (1989 to 1995), Sydney Kings (2000 to 2002), Singapore Slingers (2006 to 2010), Sydney Kings (2010 to 2011)
- Leadership role in every capacity since Captaining his High School basketball team in 1971
All of this and a whole lot more…
Listen to the full interview below or download on iTunes.