Recently the TWB Staff asked forum poster T_Wolf_ in_Sydney of Sydney, Australia to submit his thoughts on the Wolves and Australian Basketball. Below is his story, and a few noteable names from Aussie past, many of which have Wolves connections. Have a read, and thank you TWiS!
I remember when the NBA was fashionable in Australia; I guess it started when “NBA Action” was televised on free to air broadcast and mind you at a reasonable hour, it featured one replayed game a week. It used to be that you’d have to pay via cable or stay up past midnight to watch American sports. See, basketball doesn’t get much attention here since we have 4 different codes of football (Australian Rules Football, Rugby League, Rugby Union and Soccer) and cricket.
We have a National Basketball League, www.nbl.com.au, started in 1979. Interestingly, each team was allowed to have no more than 2 “import” non-Australian players and traditionally most teams consist of 2 “reject” NBA players, D-Leaguers, and NBA hopefuls. Fancy seeing your local star player get benched or cut from the NBA team they tried for….sad but true. The league has recently had some troubled times, GFC has seen some teams fold, and I believe this season had been cancelled, go figure….
I just started High School and every other kid had a Bulls #23 jersey. It was cool to be American, well at least dress like one and drink some imported Dr. Pepper. Prior to this big NBA fad, I liked the Celtics despite never seeing a full game – I was just happy playing as Larry Bird on the classic PC game of Lakers vs. Celtics.
Imagine being able to see a full televised game for the first time! The first full game I saw was the Suns vs. Blazers (1992) – the newly acquired Charles Barkley was tearing it up for the Suns. So a Phoenix Suns fan I became. The most popular teams in Australia at the time were: 1) Bulls 2) Magic 3) Celtics 4) Lakers…. The Timberwolves were unheard of. So I played ball with friends from morning to midnight, we talked about how awesome Shaq was after he pulled down the hoop in his rookie season, we traded basketball cards, we showed off our new Nike Air Jordans, we spent our pocket money on genuine NBA caps and wear it back to front just to be cool. NBA Jam came out in the arcades (my friends and I always joked we would start a video game based on our local NBL, and call it NBL Lay-Up)…. more money and time spent on that. I loved basketball, until I witnessed Jordan and the Bulls down the Suns in the NBA finals – man if it weren’t uncool for guys to cry, I probably would have!
There was a sale on NBA merchandise at the Department store one day. Since I was at school, I begged mum to find and buy for me a really cool NBA jacket – Suns preferably or at worst Lakers, Celtics or Magic. She came back with a Timberwolves jacket………..WTF!?!?!?! Who the hell are they? Words couldn’t express my disappointment. A few days later, I decided I would ignore the fashion and go with the Wolves… nobody has any of their gear, I would be unique.
“Didn’t they draft that Laettner dude,” my friend would ask me. “I think so,” I would reply. That’s about the extent of my Wolves knowledge (let’s not ever mention that player’s name again). Then I found out, they had Luc Longley.
1) AUSSIE IMPORT #1: LUC LONGLEY (C, 7ft2 and 265 lbs)
- Drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 1st round (7th pick) of the 1991 draft. Incidentally, the first Australian to ever play in the NBA. Yayyyyyyyy !!!!
- 11 seasons NBA, 3 championship rings with Chicago Bulls (1995-1998), career: 21.2MPG,7.2PPG, 0.462FG%, 4.9RPG, 1.5APG, 1BPG.
- Comments: Luuuuuuuuuuuc !!!! It’s amazing how M.J. and Phil Jackson can make this guy look awesome. To his credit, he rarely did anything wrong on the court in his prime, but then again he really didn’t do anything much anyway. Our drafting woes started early since we drafted him ahead of Stacey Augmon, Terrell Brandon, Dale Davis and Chris Gatling.
Then, my all-time favourite local player, Shane Heal, signed up with the Wolves in 1996:
2) AUSSIE IMPORT #2: SHANE HEAL (G, 6ft and 180 lbs)
- Unflattering NBA career averages of: 6.3MPG, 0.273FG%,2.0PPG, 0.8APG. But make no mistakes this man CAN PLAY… his NBL career average is 20.6 points, 6.1 assists and 1.0 steals.
- He is nick named “The Hammer” as he nails threes virtually on command, and arguably the best clutch player Australia has.
- Comments: Best known for his run in with Charles Barkley, I mean this literally, as he bumped chests with the Round Mound of Rebound and pretty much gave Chuck a mouthful on the Altlanta Olympic pre-tournament warm up Australia vs USA. I remember this game well as Heal lit up the score boards, pinning three after three, and giving Team USA a slight (let me emphasise slight) scare. This performance without doubt might have led to his first NBA stint. Apparently, Chuck and Heal hugged and made up afterwards for photos.
Once Barkley left the Suns, I decided to follow the Timberwolves only. Then the skinny kid McHale drafted from high school changed everything, Kevin Garnett became the face of the Timberwolves, and Australia finally knew who the Minnesota Timberwolves are. The rest is history. I’ve followed the Timberwolves through the good and bad (and worst) of times. I don’t imagine following any other teams, even if things go bad.
Just for interest here are some other Australian players that have made the NBA. I’m really hoping for more in the future. Basketball is an awesome game – I hope one day I can experience the atmosphere a live NBA game.
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