Lessons from Covid-hit league

Finals most valuable player Jordan Hunt holds the National Basketball League trophy after the...
Finals most valuable player Jordan Hunt holds the National Basketball League trophy after the team returned to Dunedin. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
At the outset it seemed a makeshift tournament. There was controversy. Top teams and players chose not to play, citing player welfare concerns among other things.

On reflection though, there was a lot that would be great to keep from this year’s National Basketball League.

A close league. More interest than there has been in years. And most importantly, Kiwis getting opportunities.

That last point is key.

This league was virtually entirely full of domestic players. The imports which have for so long been major players were absent.

We knew how good Jordan Ngatai and Jarrod Kenny could be for the Otago Nuggets.

But without three imports taking away minutes, we also saw how good the likes of Jordan Hunt, Kane Keil, Josh Aitcheson and Richie Rodger are.

Every team had players like this. It was great for development and great from a pathway perspective.

But it was equally great from a viewer’s perspective.

The quality of the league was lower - it lacked genuine size and athleticism.

That meant the local players did not get the experience of playing those types of players.

But it was great to watch so many New Zealanders.

The ones you see at representative and school tournaments through the years, or at club basketball on Saturday.

Fans connect with that.

A move to three imports always seemed excessive - one would be fine.

That enables you to plug a hole, provides an ambassador and exposes Kiwi players to a different type of player, without also taking away opportunity.

More New Zealanders are playing the game now than a decade ago, and there is more depth.

The quality is there, it just needs a place to play.

The closeness of the league was fantastic too. Having a rich team like the Wellington Saints signing all the top players has made for a dull product for years.

A draft ensured a spread of talent. That is not practical in a normal league.

Telling an amateur, or low-paid, player to move cities for five months is different from joining a team for six weeks when everyone was going to be at the same place.

But some form of talent equalisation system, perhaps a salary cap, would help.

That way the league does not come down to who has the most money.

It is hard to get excited about a competition when you know who will win the majority of the games before it starts.

Interest drops and so does sponsorship, and you are left with a competition with little meaning.

You could argue it is on the weaker teams to get better.

But realistically a lot are already battling to survive as it is.

Talent equalisation would weaken the top teams and the top players would be hurt financially.

But the majority of teams and so many more players beneath that top group would benefit.

Being in the public eye is key too - both in terms of increasing fans and attracting sponsors.

Having every game on television was important.

It enabled the league to be a visible forum, whereas in past years it has very much been out of sight, out of mind.

That was certainly the case in Otago with the return of the Nuggets.

But it was the same everywhere as people were able to tune in and watch their team every week.

We have seen all this work over the past six weeks.

They are not all things that can be replicated in a longer season.

But it has shown concepts that work and ones that should be integrated into next year’s league.

jeff.cheshire@odt.co.nz

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