Did you know that Melbourne, Australia has the most #1 NBA draft picks than any city for the last 36 years? 2015 NBA Champion big-man Andrew Bogut kicked it off in 2005, then the quick-footed Kyrie Irving was drafted #1 in 2011 (who was also an NBA champion in 2016), and finally, Ben Simmons rose above the rest to be the top pick in the 2016 draft. These players have made it – they’ve come from the bustling streets of Melbourne to the pros in the US, but what about we kids who still hoop in our hometown courts under the blazing Australian sun?
Though I’m a regular pedestrian of Melbourne and feel very much at home there, I’m from about an hour’s drive east, a small country town called Warragul. We have our basketball here: the domestic competition, representative tournaments between towns, many of us follow the NBL, but we Victorians are still a very long way from the NBA – about 12700 km (which is almost 8000 miles). Unfortunately, neither I nor my parents have decided to cough up the $330 AUD for NBA League Pass or the absurd amount for cable TV here, so to watch NBA games, we use the unreliable and often grainy streaming websites. During the season, I would often wake up hours before school started to catch a hotly anticipated matchup between the Cavaliers and Celtics, or naïvely ignore my schoolwork in morning lessons to see Westbrook stuff the stat sheet yet again. This is the case for many of my fellow Australian NBA fans – dodgy streams and early mornings just to catch a game. I honestly cannot imagine how a young Australian might have kept up with the NBA 10 or 15 years ago. I mean, the score might be hard to see on a stream that I’m watching, but I’m watching that stream on a handheld super-computer in the car on the way to school. I can go to my friend’s house and watch a rerun of that day’s Inside the NBA on TV, even Shaqtin’ a Fool if I’m really lucky.
The NBA’s presence in Australia has increased in the past, and isn’t stopping anytime soon. Even though the latest issue of SLAM Magazine arrives at the Warragul newsagent about a month late, awareness of the NBA is growing here. Earlier this year, I was even offered a free trial to NBA League Pass on the streets of Melbourne, which I greedily accepted with a twinkle in my eye. There weren’t even any games on until the next morning, yet I spent the whole train ride home exploring its expansive replay functionalities and endless stat lists.
Many ballers outside Australia may not even be aware of our basketball league, but the NBL is thriving here and has been increasingly so since its beginning in 1979. Though our seven Australian teams and one New Zealand team may not be as high caliber as the US’s thirty teams - in wealth or quality of basketball – we can still hold our own. This statement seems to have been backed up by both leagues, as they have agreed that in October, we will send our Sydney Kings to play the Utah Jazz, the Bullets from Brisbane to take on the Suns in Phoenix, and the Melbourne United over to Oklahoma City to face the reigning MVP and his Thunder – the last matchup coincidentally being my two favorite teams within their respective leagues, so as you may guess, I’m ecstatic, and I’d greatly encourage any baller in those areas to grab a ticket to those games because they’ll be thrilling matchups.
Though we may have “exotic” accents and funny traditions, the next time you meet an Australian baller, don’t let them start in a game of kings, because you might find yourself on the unfortunate end of an 11-0 game before you can say “g’ day”.