This week we were lucky to get some face time with Australian Basketball legend, Sydney Kings coach, and all-round nice guy Shane Heal. Famous for his ability to pot 3 pointers from all over the the court and getting all up in Charles Barkley’s grill, Heal has undertaken one of the biggest challenges of his career as he endeavors to rebuild the Sydney Kings and restore the NBL to its former glory.
The late 80s/early 90s were pretty good times for the NBL. Heal was a young up and comer, leaping Leroy Loggins was still running around, and Andrew Gaze was the preeminent silverfox in Australian sport. This coincided with the Jordan/Shaq years in the NBA and the game had personality to burn. Somewhere along the way, the game seemed to fall off the map in Australia and endured a relegation to genuine second tier sport. But as the A-League has proven this summer, with some big plays off the field/court, Australians are more than happy to branch out past the footy/cricket cycle that has dominated our sporting culture. Here are Shane Heal’s top three tips for revitalising NBL:
Prime Time TV Exposure
Exposure is step number one to rebuilding NBL’s public image and the move to get the game back on our screens is a big one. “I think they’ve done the right thing by putting the NBL back on free to air. Friday nights it’s on One HD and Sunday’s game is on Channel 10 at 2pm live. So that’s a good start to get it back to the community rather than pay-tv.” With the game brought back in from the pay-tv cold, kids who aren’t spoiled enough to have Fox Sports can follow the game with regularity.
Create Some Personalities
Heal agreed that the A-League’s attraction of internationally renowned players has been key to creating the current buzz and that the NBL must achieve something similar whether it be drafting in former NBA stars or creating our own batch of characters within the existing NBL pool. “We definitely have to create some identities within our sport. We don’t have too many people in the NBL that are known out in the general public. I think if we can do that and create some sort of characters, whether people like them or hate them, as long as they have some sort of feeling about them, then they’ll want to go along and watch games.” Heal pointed to several high caliber ex-NBA ballers who would be a good fit for the NBL “it would be interesting if someone tried for an Allen Iverson type player who is currently making as much money as he can in Asia.”
Until we latch on to some characters, Heal is confident that the NBL has the goods in-terms of playing standard to impress and convert fans. “We’ve only got 8 teams now, so with 2 Americans on each team, you’re down to 64 spots for all of Australia and there are that many kids that are coming back from college so the depth in each team is really good.” When pressed on the issue of expansion, Heal pointed to 10 as the magic number. “Brisbane should have a team. I think a second Melbourne team will come in and as long as those owners can sustain any sort of losses and their application is based around their viability in terms of structure and ability to stick around then it would be great to go back to 10.”
As for the Kings this year, Heal concedes that they are in a rebuilding phase after their absence from the competition between 2008/2010 and after losing star players Anatoly Bose and Julian Khazzouh to the lucrative European Leagues over the off season. That doesn’t mean they won’t have a red-hot go of it but Heal has identified last year’s runner up the Perth Wild Cats as the team to beat. “I think Perth are the favorites. Perth have been thereabouts for the last couple of years and they’ve got 8 players that have been there for 4 plus years, so they got a lot of continuity with what they are doing so they are going to be tough. NZ will still be tough, and Adelaide have really recruited well. They’ve spent good money and picked up good players from the Gold Coast demise.”
The Kings play their first home game this week against the Melbourne Tigers. For all other league info head to the official NBL website.
For a history lesson, watch Heal put Charles Barkley in his place and school the all conquering USA on how to nail a 3-pointer.
Pictures by Mark Nolan and Darren McNamara at Getty Images