Greatest moments in Otago sport - Number 28

The Otago Daily Times counts down the 150 greatest moments in Otago sport.

No 28: Jerome Fitchett's buzzer-beater (1991)

Jerome Fitchett celebrates with Nuggets fans. Photo from <i>ODT</i> Files.
Jerome Fitchett celebrates with Nuggets fans. Photo from ODT Files.
It is the greatest moment in Otago Nuggets history and one of the single most dramatic plays in the rich fabric of Otago sport.

But the guy who pulled it off wasn't even supposed to have the ball in his hands.

In just their second season in the National Basketball League, the Nuggets claimed a fairytale one-point win in the playoffs over the powerful Nelson Giants.

The key moment came with seconds remaining at Auckland's ASB Stadium. The Nuggets, trailing 77-75, called a time-out, after which young forward Brent Matehaere inbounded the ball.

It got to Euan Lockhart, who flung a desperate pass to American import Jerome Fitchett.

He jacked up an ambitious three-point attempt and, even though he wasn't a great outside shooter, the ball went through the net.

Cue the pandemonium, as Fitchett took off on a celebratory run, followed by the eager Matehaere.

Fitchett finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds, supported by fellow American Leonard King (28 points).

The Nuggets then got off to a great start in the semifinal against the Hutt Valley Lakers when Fitchett completed a spectacular left-handed dunk.

With the Americans, Michael Hurring and Euan Lockhart dominating the floor, the Nuggets pulled into a 74-66 lead and seemed to have one foot in the final. But Fitchett fouled out, Glen Denham was struggling with injury and the Lakers, led by Tony Brown and Darryl Johnson, came back to win 104-99, and went on to beat the Saints in the final.

Fitchett, a star at Florida State University, first played for Otago in 1989 and then returned in 1991.

A dominant rebounder and skilled athlete, he was best known for his vicious dunking.

Team-mates and fans from the era remember his signature dunk - taking off from the foul line, something only a couple of NBA stars had tried before.

Fitchett went on to play in Israel, Hong Kong and China.

He also played in the Continental Basketball Association and the Canadian national league.

After retiring, Fitchett was an assistant coach and talent evaluator at various small colleges and high schools. He has also done some broadcasting and charity work.