Former Sydney Kings star CJ Bruton is set to receive the ultimate accolade from the club where he won his first NBL championship.
At the Sydney Kings’s clash with the Melbourne United this Sunday afternoon Bruton will be officially added to the Kings’ Wall of Legends, which current include former Kings legends, Matt Nielsen, Steve Carfino, Mark Dalton, Shane Heal, Damian Keogh, Tim Morrissey and Dean Uthoff, ex-coach Bob Turner and former owner, the late Mike Wrublewski.
“I’m pumped. Any time you played this game as a young kid I would walk into venues in Australia and around the world see banners hanging. It’s an honour that I’ll soon be hanging with the other Kings legend in that building.” – C.J. Bruton describing his emotions heading into Sunday.
Bruton went on to win six NBL championships before retiring, equalling David Stiff as the most NBL championships ever won by a single player.
CJ, the son of Hall of Famer and NBL legend Calvin ‘Black Pearl’ Bruton had played for the Perth Wildcats, Brisbane Bullets, Wollongong Hawks and the Canberra Cannons before signing with the Kings in 2003 when the Cannons folded and their NBL licence handed over to the Hunter Pirates.
300 kilometres away the Sydney Kings had just done the unthinkable and delivered Sydney a championship behind the spectacular play of Shane Heal and coaching of Brian Goorjian.
The purple and gold celebrations didn’t last long however with Brett Brown, then a part of the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff, bringing the improved play of Heal to the attention of the Spurs who offered him a second NBA shot. Heal jumped at the chance, leaving the reigning champs with an empty void at point guard.
The 2002/03 championship team had been constructed by then coach Brett Brown, who himself had received an NBA job offer himself a month before the 2002/03 season started and was left handing the keys over to Brian Goorjian to finish the job.
Goorjian was successful his first year in Sydney but with a full off-season and ability to recruit his own style of player, he re-envisioned the team to embody that gritty, defensive “Goorjian-style” and replaced Kavossy Franklin, Chris Williams, Michael Kingma, Ben Melmeth, Gary Boodnikoff and Travis Lane with “Goorjian types” Jason Smith, Luke Martin, Brett Wheeler, Graeme Dann and import Ebi Ere.
But a superstar was needed to fill the shoes of Shane Heal. CJ was the perfect fit for Goorjian, a dynamic combo guard able to set up teammates or score the clutch basket. At the time CJ had been an All-American and a NJCAA tournament MVP, an NBA draft pick, NBL Most Improved Player but had never played for the Boomers. The opportunity to play for Goorjian, who was also the coach of the Australian national team, gave Bruton the chance to push for Olympic selection everyday at training.
Under Goorjian’s master plan and CJ’s leadership the team roared out of the blocks with ten consecutive victories. Even when fellow Boomers Smith suffered a mid-season injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the year, the team finished the season with a 26-7 record which equalled the most regular season wins of all-time.
At season’s end CJ had averaged 16.5 points, 3.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game and maintained his brilliance while the Kings knocked off the Brisbane Bullets in the semi-finals and then defeated the West Sydney Razorbacks to claim his first championship ring.
Goorjian and the Kings would complete their three-peat the following year, sweeping the Wollongong Hawks in three games and providing CJ with his second NBL title in as many years.
The following year would be Bruton’s last as a King, the team falling short of a fourth consecutive NBL title when they were defeated by Chris Anstey and the Melbourne Tigers in the 2006 Grand Final.
Bruton left the Kings shortly after, returning to Brisbane under coach Joey Wright. Bruton and Wright guided Brisbane to the 2007 NBL championship, Bruton’s third title in four years. In perhaps CJ’s swansong, he travelled across the Tasman in 2008 to help build a culture within the New Zealand Breakers program, a move that netted him three consecutive titles (2011-13) along the way.
During his tenure at the Kings, Bruton was at his personal apex. Named to the 2006 NBL First Team and being able to finally representing his country. CJ donned the green and gold for the first time in Athens at the 2004 Olympics.
He captained the 2006 Commonwealth Games gold-medal winning team, to date, the only medal won by a national men’s team and went on to play for the Boomers at the 2006 FIBA World Championships and 2008 Beijing Olympics.
A great leader, man of faith and a true champion. This Sunday afternoon, he will be elevated to Kings legend status and a banner featuring Bruton will be raised to the Qudos Bank Arena rafters.