Most people are thinking about a cold drink and loosening a tie 5pm on a Friday afternoon, Basketball Australia chief executive Larry Sengstock however decided clear out his desk, email everyone his resignation “effective immediately” and leave without mentioning to any staff that he wouldn’t be coming back.
As a player Sengstock was a legend. Playing from the leagues inception in 1979 to 1996, he won the league’s first Finals MVP, won five NBL championships (only David Stiff has more) and represented Australia at more major international tournaments then anyone not named Andrew Gaze or Phil Smyth.
In 2009 the National Basketball League was considered dead and Sengstock took over from Basketball Australia’s Scott Derwin in order to oversee to establishment of an entire new competition. No one knew what was going to happen, a new name for the league was proposed, all existing clubs were considered defunct and new franchises were possibly going to be entered. No one knew shape a national league would return with in 2009, if it even returned that year.
When the dust had settled what had happened? The NBL was still called the NBL. The South Dragons and Sydney Spirit had been culled but other than that the eight teams which returned for the 2009/10 season… the re-birth of the NBL were all present the season earlier. What had changed?
The following season in 2010/11 brought much hope and some even proclaimed Sengstock a saviour due to the fact an agreement was made with One HD to broadcast three live NBL games a week. But was this really a Sengstock achievement or the inclusion of the Sydney Kings that year as well as the fact that One HD, a new station desperately need content to televise, needed the NBL at that time?
Fast forward to the end of this season it’s quite clear that ONE HD doesn’t need the NBL anymore with no NBL coverage being played earlier then 10.00pm this season and some as late as 12.00am the following day. NBL fans have bombarded ONE HD with complaints and requests to go back to Pay TV or even Internet streaming in order for fans to see games live. Not one statement has been made by Sengstock to empathise with the fans or even detail any plan they may have to deal with it.
This season Sengstock was proud to announce the NBL crowd attendance had risen by 3%. “It’s gratifying to see that the hard work that the league and the NBL clubs have put in is continuing to translate into tangible growth for our sport” Sengstock said in March. Is this increase something Sengstock had a hand in or was it simply the fact that the New Zealand Breakers went from easy beats to NBL Champions the year before, igniting the tiny island next door into a basketball frenzy, resulting in 40% attendance rise. It’s great to see basketball doing so well across the Tasman Sea but what’s happening here?
The Grand Final will be decided in the next week or so and fans in Perth may possibly have to wait six hours after the fact to watch their team play although there is no doubt Facebook and Twitter will have answered that question for them making it no point for casual fans to stay up to watch it.
Larry Sengstock left suddenly and without warning leaving many surprised last Friday afternoon, but after three years of toiling to make a difference in the NBL which resulted in not much difference at all to most NBL fans perhaps its more surprising he didn’t leave sooner.
By Dan Boyce
Dan Boyce is a die-hard Sydney Kings fan who grew up in Melbourne during the roaring 90’s of Australian Basketball and spent far too much time collecting Futera NBL Basketball cards.