With the news of sweeping changes to the NBL’s salary situation, there’s a real opportunity to not only increase the league’s popularity in the short term, but solidify the sport of basketball in Australia in the general public’s conscious for years to come. The answer: long term NBL imports.
Thinking back to the golden days of the NBL you had guys like Andrew Gaze, Shane Heal and Mark Bradtke tearing it up. What also made us love the league were the imports who stuck around for 8-10 years. Names like Daryl McDonald, Rob Rose, Derek Rucker, Ricky Grace, Leroy Loggins and Cal Bruton who brought a tinge of America (and the NBA) to the NBL.
Players who were electrifying in their play and were amazing for the promotion of the game. Melbourne basketball courts were covered in North Melbourne Giants jerseys with the word’s “D-Mac” across the back. These imports weren’t only superstar talents but also brought stability to their team, allowed clubs to build around them and drew in thousands of fans.
The last decade of play however has seen import loyalty for the league fly out the window with imports rarely staying for a year and more often than not being cut mid way through the season.
In the past five seasons dating back to the 2011/12 season, there has been 62 imports in our league. Can you guess how many of them have played more than one season in Australia? Thirteen.
That’s right, only 20% of imports have stuck around for another season and out of those thirteen, only five have played three or more seasons in the past five years.
The NBL 5 Years of Service Club
In case you were wondering, they were Cedric Jackson (New Zealand), Gary Ervin (Wollongong, Adelaide, Townsville), Jermaine Beal (Perth), Jamar Wilson (Adelaide, Cairns) and Kevin Lisch (Illawara, Perth). You would think that the draw of this fantastic country would convince imports to stay, but the reality is that money talks. People will go to where the most money is and in the past that wasn’t Australia.
Until now. Gone are the days of a $1 million hard cap and the player point system and trying to cram as much talent as possible into them. Now there is a soft cap which means that teams will be able to go above and beyond to get the best team possible (if the owner has deep pockets).
Teams like Melbourne, Perth and Sydney who have shown their willingness to spend the cash on quality imports is a great sign. Not only will teams be able to sign better and more illustrious players, they will be able to keep their imports and stave away the more cashed up leagues overseas. It was said before that money talks and now teams will be able to have a big say in who comes and goes from the NBL.
In a perfect world this will pay dividends straight away but expect it to have an effect two or three years in the future. Hopefully fan favourite Jerome Randle will want to remain in Adelaide. This could even see a boom in popularity for basketball all across South Australia.
Hopefully the likes of Josh Childress, Al Harrington and Hakim Warrick will no longer be surprises to the league, but instead the minimum expectation for an NBL import and an NBA resume a prerequisite for imports in our league.
It’s been a fantastic start to the league overhaul and if things keep going the way they are projected, the golden days of the 1990’s can hopefully be eclipsed by this need breed of talent. Maybe these names and faces can help make the NBL relevant again and with all due respect see Andrew Gaze being known more as a guy who is on the AFL footy shows, than the most recognizable face in our sport despite having not played a game in over a decade.