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The dunk that saved a league. Read the story

Remembering Jordan and the Pistons. Read the story

Does the Hornets brand still have sting? Read the story

Muggsy Bogues and point guards of stature. Read the story

NCAA legend Dwayne McClain reflects on his Sydney Kings career and talks about the NBL's future. Read the Q&A 

Lauren Jackson helps us forget the end of the Seattle Sonics. Read the story

 

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                    HALF COURT PRESS

                        EDITOR: JP PELOSI

 

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Sunday
Apr062014

Stormy city sport and the roar it starts


By J.P. Pelosi

The game was at 3pm - two hours away - but I'd forgotten to print our tickets. The wonderful thing about digital technology is that it allows organised people to excel at saving time. For those less prepared however, the option to have printable tickets delivered to email is rife with problems. Chief among them, is remembering to print your tickets before you leave the house.

We bundled into dad's sky blue Citroen with my brother Alex behind the wheel and the rain blurring the view in front. Dad sat shotgun and I manned a Google page on my iphone in the backseat, hoping to pinpoint the quickest way to the park. Leichhardt Oval is one of those hidden gems, a cosy suburban stadium nestled between Sydney's cove, its old cottages and tall greenery. It's also a venue which, after 80 years, has changed its look more times than Madonna. It has a bizarre mix of spectator perches, including a wide grassy hill, an old grandstand named after Balmain icon, Keith Barnes, and a more modern bleacher that shields fans from the elements but not those closer to the pitch. Dad later tells us he met Mr. Barnes a few years back and that he was a nice guy. Well you'd have to be after they named a grandstand after you, right?

Thirty minutes in Leichhardt's Sunday traffic, which is something everyone should experience really, and we hit another snag: a suddenly stubborn printer at dad's office. With our day out slipping away, I could hear Dennis Denuto yelling on the wind. Alex suggested that he'd buy some pizzas while I tried the local library, where thankfully the lady running the joint was eager to help. She was also determined to make me leap through more hoops than Evel Kinievel. And so after 25 minutes, I not only had the tickets but a brand new library card, pamphlets with more instructions than the launch sequence for an atomic submarine, oh, and a well-bitten lip.

We scoffed down our pizzas, using the pamphlets as plates, while Alex navigated the neighbourhood's narrow passages looking for a parking space. There were none. Not a spare inch. I assume locals get around Sydney by hopping one of the many flights that rattle over their homes every two minutes, leaving their cars dormant out front as generous monuments.

Dad threw his hands up and I couldn't blame him. It was raining jungle cats and junkyard dogs, fans were still filing in twenty minutes after kick-off and the speed at which we devoured our pizzas was wreaking havoc on my belly. We took an endless street that runs parallel to the park but drops so far down into nearby Lilyfield that the bright lights above faded from view. Close to conceding defeat to this inner-city labyrinth, once a blue-collar village but now a paradise for coffee aficionados and obsessive joggers, we spied a non-descript driveway that led to the foot of the arena. Alex turned our French-built tank left and we edged our way to a puddle riddled lawn, where he finally cut the motor and we hiked up to the ground, chasing the roar of the fans just beyond the treetops.

The rain pounded the hill, where we finally stood huddled under a small black umbrella, which itself seemed reluctant to be outside, with its fabric peeling back from its metal frame. The top of dad's ice cream toppled over his knuckles, the cone able to save at least the lower half and a sprinkling of nuts. I was reminded of how he always told us that he didn't feel the cold much. My well-selected canvas shoes were soaked and that, believe me, I felt. 

People that brave bitter winds and icy sheets of rain to watch football should have their license revoked really, my dad, brother and I among them. Well, Alex drove, so maybe he was solely deserving of an enquiry. But the other 16,000 fans at the park on this particular autumn afternoon must have included some crazies too. Then again, maybe raucous and tireless crowds that pack into such small suburban spaces deserve praise. I mean, they must line up for hours for a slice of pie in these parts. We had ours over at Moretti's on Norton Street and it was the one thing that came out faster than Wests Tigers that afternoon.

The home team played in a jersey that would apparently be the result if a tiger hit it off with a magpie, which is both weird and ironic, because the amalgamation of the Balmain footy team with that of the Western Suburbs club hasn't always been seamless. That the marriage has been on the skids lately, may have prompted the sudden swelling of support at Leichhardt, though I'm certain the beloved venue - which not only has a distinct lack of seats but might suffer the league's muddiest ground during a storm - is a distinct drawcard.

There were plenty of drops and slides, and the kind of tackles that set up blokes in their post athletic career as turnstiles. But there were also some delicately placed chip kicks and quick hands along the backlines, which inevitably led to the outflanking of defenders. Landing a crossfield kick too, and in just the right spot when the ball is water-logged, seems an incredible feat, and players like Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans did it effortlessly.

When we shuffled in for the second half, the Tigers were up on the visiting Sea-Eagles by 26 - 4. It was a remarkable performance that featured relentless battering on defence and powerful runs up the middle in attack, which absolutely defied the slippery ground. The Tigers weren't just ferocious, they were inexplicably salivating. Must have had some trouble getting their pizza.

All I could think was how wonderfully vocal the people around us were on the hill. While our tickets were for seats on the far side of the stadium, here we were by chance, standing amid a half-monsoon, among drunken fanatics in orange and black striped tracksuits, trying to catch a glimpse of Manly's brilliant halfback dart down the flank. 

There just aren't many sporting events that have retained the simplicity of a day at the rugby league. I still remember dad taking us to games at the Sydney Cricket Ground when we were kids, where we'd similarly brave the winter cold to cheer on our favourite teams. These folks were no different and I was pleased to be reminded of it. After all, we're so coddled in the current age, with everything having to be at a 'premium' standard and everyone pursuing luxury. Indoor sports like basketball and tennis especially have succumbed to such superficialities, where in short, the game can sometimes come second to other frills, many of them the imported trimmings of other big leagues around the globe.

Our soaked day atop the risen ground wasn't just nostalgic but uncomplicated. This is the point: our shoulders were drenched, our shoes were heavy with mud and I took in more second hand smoke than one would meeting with Don Draper. But it was indeed breathtaking. It was Sunday sport in Sydney as it was meant to be. 

Friday
Apr042014

Aussies love a show, be it with bases or baskets

 

There’s a hazy black and white photo of the Chicago White Sox in Sydney 100 years ago, in which the flags atop the city’s venerable cricket ground are all flapping to the right. 

It’s a windswept day with spectators perched on benches around the park and lean men in coats and hats strolling about the grassy foreground. Small groups are huddled on the lawn to see the action, perhaps pondering the oddity of baseball at their favourite venue.

This type of scene gave Major League Baseball’s (MLB) latest sojourn to Sydney an important precedent, one that many other international cities can’t match. But I realise it’ll take more than scrapbook nostalgia to convince you that the historic Opening Series in Australia was more than a chance for a few ball players to hug a koala.

Indeed MLB had its work cut out. They surely knew that a game hosted in another far off land, where bats are flat, not round, wouldn’t drag Americans out of bed, even those devoted to the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks, or the ongoing push by the corporatised sports world for global presence. Nor could they be sure that Aussies would turn away from local football or the basketball playoffs to have a peak.

But this was about sharing the love of the game, come rain, hail or an empty arena.

There was a comforting magic at these Sydney fixtures too - played in Australia’s grandest stadium the Sydney Cricket Ground (or “SCG”) - like one of grandpa’s card tricks after dinner. The Sox, too, were surely right at home that windy summer of 1914, when they beat the New York Giants 5-4. 

Prior to that legendary hit around, the tourists played the local team from New South Wales, which they warmed up for with a “clever shadow game”, as Sydney paper The Sunday Times put it.

“Throughout the Americans earned the approbation of the crowd by their alertness and combination,” the Times said. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I like it.

Now if all this doesn't arouse your interest, then perhaps the fact that 80,000 fans showed up to the SCG over the weekend to watch a game that’s as secondary to them as bobsledding, will lift your brow. At least no acronyms are needed when men careen down an ice shoot.

Those who did tune in back in the States, along with other night owls like Batman and Dracula, likely spat out their Doritos at the sight of the beautiful diamond that replaced the sacred cricket ground. I mean it’s almost as old as actor Abe Vigoda and probably as equally revered. It’s also seen some of the country's most iconic sporting moments: it’s where Don Bradman scored 452 runs for New South Wales against Queensland; where the St George rugby league team won its record 11th straight championship; and where Tony Lockett kicked his record setting 1,300th goal.

Indeed there's a wonder to the place and cracking bats and crunching crackerjack, and the silhouettes of capped and gloved ball players has only added to the mystique. As a column in The Sydney Morning Herald said on the Monday afterward, the ghosts of the SCG must have had a blast seeing what unfolded in their home. Eva Longoria enlarged on the jumbotron maybe helped too.

But baseball could do a whole lot worse than pitching itself Down Under because as well know, Aussies love sport. Any sport. If you could somehow score men lobbing mangoes down Sydney's George Street it'd instantly draw a crowd, I think. And Sydneysiders, especially, relish an event. So nine innings on the Cricket Ground, is closer to an extravaganza.  

In my mind, this is all local basketball needs - events! If it could similarly host some of the American NBA teams or players, I guarantee crowds would flock to it. In fact, if you brought out the Dodgers' Los Angeles cousins, the Lakers to play the Sydney Kings, there's little doubt it'd sellout in minutes.

Listen, like you, I had doubts about how baseball might work in our cricketer’s land, where meat pies are glorified and litres of lager are usually consumed over eight hours of play, not a mere three. It was like a surreal dream really, this recent show: opposing colors and shapes collided, sounds foreign to one another smashed together, and at once, the image of a famous arena had turned upside down as if fallen victim to the brush of Salvador Dali.

Yet it somehow meshed - the pristine field topped with Californian clay, cold beers on the concourse, the restrained Wrigley-like billboards, restless ballhawks and pretty girls in crisp caps with an eye beyond the game. It could have been Chicago or Boston.

The old hot dog guy outside the stadium wanted to know what the score was when I left. He's there all the time, grilling sausages and onions and slapping them into buns. If I told him the winning team, or number of hits, or how many innings pitcher Clayton Kershaw went, would it matter? Maybe not exactly but symbolically, yes. He was genuinely intrigued, just like everyone here. Such is the allure of this old game and its universal ability to capture imaginations.

Wednesday
Mar262014

All the Kings' men

 

By J.P. Pelosi

As the Sydney Kings descended from midseason highs, it occurred to me that the club is close to its former regality but something is still lacking - and I don't mean the jumpy bloke who used to wave his giant foam finger courtside.

The Kings were decent this past campaign, putting several formidable opponents to the sword and finishing fifth on the NBL ladder. To some, that might be equivalent to splitting two free throws - fair, but hardly worthy of applause. And yet in a tightly contested league, in which just a handful of games determine whether you play in the finals in late March or spend Sunday nights watching My Kitchen Rules instead, the Kings 12 wins from 28 outings doesn't seem as poorly as it sounds.

Sydney sports fans apparently agree, as they continued to march up to the team's Haymarket castle, 'the Kingdome', and without a pitchfork in sight. This is a losing club folks and still 4,600 vocal supporters showed to see their purple and gold knights tussle with the worst team in the nation last week, Townsville's Crocs. This happened with football season now hitting its stride, and even amid the marquee event of the year, the opening series of American baseball at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Who knows what else the Kings stole people away from? Springsteen was in town again, wasn't he?

What I'm getting at is that I keep reading columns and hearing people say basketball has no real chance in Australia and yet, crowds front up and people tune in on TV. And just ask around your office, I'll bet you a banana Paddle Pop that more than a few sneak a look at the dazzling NBA each week. Sounds like a few old cronies of the cricketing media are spinning myths to me.

Now the NBL has a long way to go, of course, but the appetite is there. This is most apparent in cities like Perth and Melbourne where fans are filling up their respective arenas, not merely the lower decks. It's all very promising, though there's still the question of shortcomings that I mentioned earlier. 

I just think Sydney, and some of the other less successful sides, need better narratives. Not enough is made of past success, former heroes, records, nor merchandising. For example, if Sydney issued some t-shirts that were almost as eye-catching as their cheerleaders, they might dislodge a few wallets from back pockets. But this isn't solely about sales, it's about awareness and building the brand, which they have essentially done on a shoestring budget to this point. A solid effort but let's see more.

It'd be wonderful if they could promote their stars a little and tell the community - wider Sydney, that is - about the top players and why people should come see them. That's what hooked me from an early age, the stories. In the late eighties the Kings were similarly average you see, winning less than half of their games in 1988, but my brother and I still asked dad to take us to matches, mostly to see Mr. Magic Steve Carfino, Damian 'Three-o' Keogh and the Man Mountain Dean Uthoff. Later on there was the D-Train Dwayne McClain, who dunked it as emphatically as Michael Jordan. They were all characters and made game night matter.

So there are angles to work here, not least of which is Sydney's increasing taste for Americana, as shown by the busy baseball showcase at the SCG. I'm not saying Americanise it all but I'm sure our diverse and very globalised city is ready to embrace more than just the Sydney Swans, the latest Ray Bans and four dollar flat whites. 

Sunday
Mar232014

INXS: Torn Apart But Still Letting Rip

By J.P. Pelosi

 

The metallic rattle and romp of INXS’s album Kick, charged into 1987 with enough gigawatts to send fans to the future and back.

Not even the plutonium-fuelled DeLorean could have kept pace. The first time I heard the record, the chords tore through my Sony Walkman and bolted across the room, before boomeranging back to slap me across the cheek. I deserved it, I guess.

Indeed, Kick overrode the senses of every teenager it struck. But I was just 11. I thought lead man Michael Hutchence was referring to an evenly contested football match when he bellowed, ‘Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked’. Certainly I was too young to appreciate the sentiment of INXS’s most iconic record. And yet, there I was, lying on the floor of our family's living room, just a short drive from where the boys went to high school in northern Sydney, absorbing its bravado.

___

It was at about the same time I fell in love with basketball and so summertime was complimented by the constant bounce of my rubber Spalding on the paved bricks in front of our house, and the blitzkrieg bop of Inxs on the family stereo. It didn't get much better, though I'm sure mum hotly anticipated sundown each day after all the racket.

Now I’m at an age where Kick truly resonates – the same age as the boys when it all came crashing down in ’97. It rocketed to No.2 on the Australian music charts and Apple’s iTunes late last month, only behind INXS’s greatest hits collection, The Very Best. The latter still occupies the top spot weeks later. Twenty-seven years ago, Kick was similarly blocked from No.1, but back then it wasn’t their own work in the way but Icehouse’s Man Of Colours and the La Bamba movie soundtrack – if you can believe it.

I came to the tape by accident because my younger brother, surely drawn to the crisp cut-outs of people depicted on the cover, which included a band member on a skateboard, bought it for me as a gift. We were enthusiastic skateboarders. Then INXS arrived and things got much faster. The band dreamed of not just a hit record, but a record of hits. Start to finish. They sought less pop perhaps than that of the typical mid-eighties fair, and far more grunt. Certainly most of the chart stuff at the time was fluorescent by comparison: The Bangles, Michael Jackson, Tiffany, George Michael and Belinda Carlisle. So INXS hit the target hard, drifting from the romantic and nostalgic, and thrust toward the sky like loaded cannons. As a result, the record’s opening track, "Guns In The Sky", seemed to barge into a world filled with saccharine twangs.

As detailed in the recent Australian-made TV biopic about the band’s rise and fall, Never Tear Us Apart, Kick marked not only a change of direction for INXS but a surge in their global popularity. Composed by the band’s in-house genius Andrew Farriss, together with Hutchence's loose and lustful lyrics, Kick fused elements of rock with dance and funk in a soulful hybrid that had the big wigs at Atlantic Records in New York fumbling for their marketing texts.

How could they possibly sell it?

Atlantic balked, but thankfully INXS’s manager Chris Murphy pressed, which is at least how the  mini-series told it. Either way, Murphy and the band believed in Kick when others didn’t and knew they were onto something. The kids would ‘get it’, Murphy cried, even if the suits didn’t. This all boggles the mind years later of course, after the record sold 14 million copies worldwide, 8 million in the US alone, and set them up for mega-stardom in the UK. Arsenio, Rosie, shiny accolades and copious amounts of drugs followed.

It was a wild recording in hindsight. It took my untainted ears a few listens, so perhaps I can empathise with the studio brass. How foreign it must have been, echoing in polished boardroom amid neatly framed platinum – all electronic, slithery and slick, ramming its message home in just 40 minutes. If "Need You Tonight" was the hit, what would become of the rest? Mystify. Devil Inside. New Sensation (which has been used inside every basketball arena on the planet it seems). Or the title track, Kick. The multiplicity of sounds would have sent even Prince into seizure.

Nonetheless, Need You Tonight was bigger than Bono. It’s harsh strums against that intoxicating guitar loop sent me reeling. It was hypnotic, repetitive even, as it slid over to us with moves so raw. It didn’t seem possible someone could write lyrics like this. It never seemed likely that a rhythm guitar could be so underutilised and yet so enthralling.

Years later, in a college dorm room on the east coast of the US, I turned to Kick for the sort of comfort Skype gives us today. Though I’m sure the album was never intended that way, I needed a taste of home. It didn’t lift the roof like, say, Blur, or even fill the void of remoteness the way Springsteen does. But it zapped you with rare and unpretentious energy and that was the point.

Days after watching the gripping re-telling of the band’s arc, a tale that focused on their ascension from a pub band to the world’s biggest rock stars, it seems naive that I considered them distinctly Australian. I can’t think of an Aussie album that’s more globally iconographic than Kick. It’s mesh of clanging steel and pulsating beats - as if drummer Jon Farriss was trying punch a hole in his equipment - was so innovative and startling, it smacked of a brash American sound actually – like Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane or Iggy Pop.

Maybe Kick stands alone as a timeless and universal artefact in 2014, created long before globalisation was even a buzz word. After all, the record merged distant beings into throbbing masses long before social media. And here it is again, an old set that still packs a mighty wallop.

 

Friday
Mar072014

The Rabbit, the Hawk and selling the game

 

By J.P. Pelosi

In the sports world, brand is everything. Okay sure, supreme athletes and clever coaches are integral to on-field success, bouncey cheerleaders and fans add colour to the sidelines, while those hardworking kids on the concourse serve the hors d'oeuvres. Other things matter too.

But brand, well, brand really underpins it all, permitting the very existence of a club, its stars and trophies. Without it, what would you have but a bunch of behemoths hellbent on a little violent bodily contact?

Take rugby league's South Sydney Rabbitohs, for example, a club that hasn't won a title in more than 40 years and was mostly a punching bag for opponents in the seventies and eighties, which is now the toast of Sydney. And why are they so celebrated? Not because they've won anything. No way. It's because their fanbase is swelling at a rate that'd turn even the egotistical Justin Bieber to the bottle (if he hasn't already set along that path). 

According to the National Rugby League, the Rabbitohs now have the highest club membership in the history of the game at 27,543 members. This is stunning to me, a footy fan that grew up in the Greed Is Good era, in which only three teams mattered and acquired all the riches: the Eels, Bulldogs and Sea Eagles. They were the only teams that won. The Rabbits not only failed to grab my attention back then, they actually didn't matter. The brand was at an all time low, you might say.

It's amazing what a little cash and star power will do, especially when that star has the physical size and metaphysical presence of Russell Crowe. Yes, Maximus' powerful thumb has more influence than the coaching staff, it seems. But more importantly, his name, and the brand he has helped to rebuild, have shown there's tremendous appetite in the marketplace for an 'old favourite'. And Souths, with their storied history, honour roll of legends and classic logo, are more enticing than Tim Tams these days.

The point I want to make here is that rugby league, or at least its best brands, have tapped into its heritage and traditional brands in a way that few Australian sporting competitions have. The National Basketball League needs to think about this approach. It has popular brands - and had a few too - but doesn't work its stories quite as well. The imagery has been watered down over time, and in some cases, lost completely.

Now some people will say there isn't much to work with and the brand cache of the Sydney Kings or Melbourne Tigers can only go so far. Maybe, at least when compared to the football codes. But basketball doesn't need to compete with football. In Australia, it's a niche sport and that can work in its favour. There are people out there that appreciate the NBL's history, myself among them.

Lately I've been thinking about the Perth Wildcats and how they've become the premier club of Aussie basketball. In truth, they've always been the benchmark for the sport here. And still, the 'Cats are hardly a household name beyond the west coast. This is a great shame because all Aussies, scarved up at the footy or sipping chardonnay courtide at the tennis, love a good sports story. The Wildcats are just that - right now. Their rollicking style of basketball, which is punctuated by one of the best talents our shores have seen, James Ennis, is must-see entertainment. You'd think this would be enough. Apparently not, not among the endless stream of footy and nonsensical number of football codes.

So maybe the growth of basketball, as commonly is the case for smaller brands in any sporting arena, will depend on the 'small market underdog' model. The NBL needs more of these and thankfully seems to have recognised this with expansion scouting trips to Hobart and Canberra recently. This is really pleasing because as funny as it sounds, the Wollongong Hawks, the regional but big hearted Hawks, are a benchmark in their own right. They play hard and fast, and can fill their modest arena. They fill a niche and local fans enjoy a special connection to them. It's a simple recipe but is appealing, just as the Rabbits are in South Sydney - by way of Homebush.  

Consider sneaker brands like Converse, Vans and Tiger for a moment, all of which have long been popular, but only because they've found crowds who want a point of difference - something for them. Amid shoe titans like Nike and Adidas, these other sneaker brands consume a significant amount of attention and more importantly sell. But as the slick sales guy from every cheesy eighties flick about 'making it big' said, it's sizzle that sells steak.  

 

Sunday
Feb092014

NBA man Young is an NBL gun

 

By J.P. Pelosi 

Having 'NBA experience' in the National Basketball League leaps off a player's resume like the 'Sausage King of Chicago'.

But unlike Ferris Bueller's little act of creative non-fiction, D.C. native, Sam Young, had no need to convince us of credentials: His impact on the Australian competition has certainly been instant.

Young charges the hoop with abandon; is bullish with men in front of him on the perimeter; and his athleticism in the open court is stunning. It's because of this movement, and undoubtedly some level of internal mayhem - the sort that leads a player to sleep in the gym as he did at the University of Pittsburgh - that I question why Young is no longer in the NBA. 

Now, I'm obviously thrilled he's here, at least for this season until he takes off for the Bayamon Cowboys in Puerto Rico. After all, it's been a while since Kings fans have seen their purple and gold blaze across the arena for the sort of dunks that loosen the bolts from a backboard. Yes, young belts the ball through the cylinder like Donkey Kong crushing barrels. 

However, it's not just the dunks that dazzle but the spins and jabs and up-and-unders, and other contortions he does to make baskets. Young scores. He should come with a small travel tag that says so. He punches paths to the middle, despite the fact that his six-foot-six frame is broad and heavy, like a Mack Truck trying to squeeze through a back alley. In short, his power overcomes his bulk, but that probably doesn't intrigue most NBA clubs longing for a long and agile two-guard. 

In the NBL though, size is size, and someone who can score will be slotted into the line up, no questions asked. That's simply a product of supply and demand.

The flip-side of this story of course, is that Young will only play a single season in Sydney before Puerto Rico, where presumably the attraction is playing among bigger bodies that can ready one for The Bigs once more. Still, I'm not convinced the opportunity is greater than spearheading the southern hemisphere's version of Showtime in Sydney. Though I'm sure the money is.

The Kings surely need Young's scoring clout for a chance at the title, even though it meant losing their point guard, Jesse Sanders. At the time, I considered it a disastrous move because the squad is loaded with size and few players to steer the offense. But Young has been incredible, sometimes catapulting beyond other players like an Apollo ship around the moon, while other times whirling past them like a giant spinning top.

This is nothing new: He weaved this work with regularity in Memphis and Indiana, in case you've forgotten.

Hey, what I can tell you? The NBA's loss is very much the NBL's gain.

Thursday
Jan302014

Kingdome to give hoop fans two more seasons

 

By J.P. Pelosi

For those who grew up in Sydney or have spent many years living here, recent news that the Sydney Entertainment Centre will get two more years of life was indeed welcome.

Sure, the old ‘Ent Cent’, ‘the SEC’, or for local basketball fans – ‘the Kingdome’ – isn’t much to look at. Against the low-rise green awnings of Chinatown, or the redbrick of the market building behind it, the arena looks like a concrete mass with less style than a bus depot.

But it’s always been ‘our depot’, a place for Sydneysiders to congregate and celebrate, be it for a Pearl Jam show, a laugh at the circus, or a few three-point bombs from the likes of Shane Heal and Damian Keogh.

These events continue today (not the shooting by Hammer and Threeo, of course), which is why thirty years after it was built, the idea that the city was prepared to bulldoze the centre seemed presumptuous. The presumption being that the audience – us – wanted a new venue.

Don’t get me wrong: we all love new sparkling new buildings, especially when they enhance the view and improve the landscape. The new offices at 1 Bligh Street at the other end of town are the perfect example of this. The architecture is amazing and I can only imagine that the spacious interior must be pleasant to work in. 

But there’s also something to be said for history and when it comes to the Entertainment Centre, its carpets have been graced by the full spectrum of icons, from the platform shoes of Elton John and the high heels of Kylie Minogue, to the large rubber soles of Magic Johnson and the sandals of the Jesus Christ Superstar cast.

Some might even remember a young Jon Bon Jovi soaring above its seats in a harness mid-show.

How many venues can boast that? 

Indeed there are memories within the centre's wide concourses, despite the fact its hallways are as tired looking as the old shopping centre arcades of the pre-Westfield era. For some reason, the buildings of the seventies and early eighties were rarely built for the long haul. They were big but nothing fancy.

That’s why the 13,000 seat Ent Cent was slated for demolition at the end of last year, as part of the government’s move to revamp Darling Harbour all the way up to Haymarket. When you look at what’s there right now, including a giant grey car park, it’s hard to argue against a refresh. The space is underutilised and could certainly be made more attractive.

If you need further convincing, as I did, consider how venue managers AEG Ogden, who currently own the centre, improved a similar space in downtown LA. That site has become a benchmark for community entertainment precincts worldwide.

Yes, it will cost about $1bn but by the end of 2016 we’ll have similar facilities of our own and that’s hard to pass up. Not only will they offer locals a new place to enjoy but are expected to pump billions into our economy through the staging of major conferences and events.

All this ignores the feelings of Kings fans though, and for our purposes that's most important. Anyone who's enjoyed the pre game amble with a few beers at Darling Harbour, followed by the customary whoofing down of prawn dumplings in Chinatown, knows all to well how comforting a venue the Ent Cent is. From a basketball perspective, it's large enough to matter and intimate enough to absorb the action without getting a nosebleed. These are important things.

So for the time being at least, the arena will squeeze in a few more memories. A last minute naming rights deal brokered between AEG Ogden and Qantas Credit Union will see to that, giving the venue two more years.

According to a few reports, this is partly to do with keeping events running while new facilities are built. Pop star Bruno Mars, country music legend Dolly Parton and rock group Dave Matthews Band are among the upcoming headliners for the newly named Qantas Credit Union Arena. 

The Sydney Kings will keep playing until the wrecking ball comes anyway, in a place that has become synonymous with their purple and gold uniforms. This is pleasing, as many of my early memories as a sports fan were at the Kings’ home court, when a player by the name of Steve Carfino was getting around in remarkably short trunks.

Times change though and no amount of nostalgia can slow a city's progress, I'm afraid.

 

Wednesday
Jan152014

When a league looks back to move forward


By J.P. Pelosi

Some basketball team names scrape the barrel, and I'm not talking about one of those oaky numbers that once housed malt whiskey. No, I mean the sort of barrel that ends up at the bottom of the harbour because somebody's consigliere forgot to book the window table.

Poor name choices can spawn from something as careless as handing the reigns to the marketing intern, to a team hopping a Greyhound for the other side of the continent. Vancouver's Grizzlies moving to Memphis is a good example of the latter, though I'm not certain Elvis wasn't a little grizzly that fateful day on the can, following a fried sandwich bender, and thus making the location switch feasible.

An example of the former, might be Toronto calling itself the Raptors, which, even if it had some crazy historical linkage, just doesn't register with homo erectus hoopus. A dinosuar, really? It's a jurassic-sized stretch, and no amount of legalized hash can change that.

Meanwhile, here in Sydney, we have the Kings, which somehow suits a city typically poised for one-upmanship. We need to be the best. We are the best - aren't we? I mean, we're practically convict royalty! At least it's better than past Sydney club names like the 'Spirit' or 'Razorbacks', both of which had to be crowbarred from the barrel's rotten base.

In Australia's NBL, I always loved the Gold Coast Rollers, a name that dropped off the tongue like a Katy Perry diddy and popped into the mind's eye because of it's beautiful simplicity. The Coast has rolling waves indeed, and is why presumably its basketball team was so smooth that it glided, nay, whooshed down court. If only they'd propel back into our lives somehow now.

In this vein, the NBL has confirmed it hopes to reintroduce another defunct outfit, the Tasmanian Professional Basketball Team, for the 2015-16 season. The old team, you may recall, was the Hobart Tassie Devils, and a more apt name I can't think of. Native to the land, scarier than Dennis Rodman cavorting with North Korea, and made for logo design, that nickname could never be topped.

NBL honcho Fraser Neill met with local government and community leaders in Launceston and Hobart during a two-day visit to Tassie, to test the viability of a local club rejoining the league. Good times, finally, for a state that's more wrongfully overlooked than Thandie Newton for movie roles.

Turns out the Hobart Devils folded in 1996, and prior to that, there was the Launceston City Casino team that won the Championship in 1981. A casino team! Can you imagine the cross-selling opportunities? This new group could really capitalize by calling themselves the DoubleDowns. Or the BlackJacks. How about the PokerFaces. Roulettes? The Crapshoots?

You know what, it's highway time Mike: The Tasmania Rounders.