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.
Read more from TWiS by clicking “READ MORE”
3) AUSSIE IMPORT #3: ANDREW GAZE (G, 6ft7 and 205lbs)
- NBA career averages (Bullets and Spurs) : 4.9MPG , 0.381FG%, 1.7PPG, 0.4APG. 1 championship ring with the Spurs. NBL career average: 31.2 points, 5.4 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals.
- Take note of this man’s consistency, this is a career average of 22 seasons ! I believe he is the second leading all time Olympic Men’s Basketball scorer.
- Comments: The Aussie Jordan. No one in Australian Basketball history will ever equal his achievements. So, he didn’t make it big in the NBA, frankly who cares – he’s got an NBA Championship Ring…that’s all that matters ! A really nice guy, and well loved in Australia.
I saw him on the Australian Dancing With The Stars… who said big tall guys can’t dance?!
4) AUSSIE IMPORT #4: ANDREW BOGUT (C, 7ft and 245 lbs)
- Drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1st round (1st pick) of the 2005 draft. NBA career stats: 32.3MPG, 0.531FG%, 12.7PPG, 9RPG, and 1.4BPG.
- Highest drafted Australian player in the NBA, and even better he’s the #1 pick !!!!
- Comments: His short, injury plagued NBA career still shows plenty of promise. He is still by far the most successful Australian player in the NBA. Funnily enough, Brandon Jennings calls Bogut, “Bogan” an affectionate name. Unfortunately, Jennings didn’t know that “Bogan” in Australia means a red-necked hick – he was red-faced when a member of the media notified him.
5) AUSSIE IMPORT #5: LAUREN JACKSON (C, 6ft5 and 187 lbs)
- Drafted 1st Pick, WNBA by Seattle Storm in 2001. WNBA Career stats: 32.0MPG,19.4PPG, 0.463FG%, 7.9RPG and 2.0BPG. League MVP 2003.
- Highest drafted Australian player in the WNBA.
- Comments: Australia has sent many women players to the WNBA, and it’s only fitting that I include our most decorated female player in this list. She totally dominates any game she plays, not much else to say… I think she’s pretty cute too. Not that there’s any chance of being romantic, she’s like a foot taller than me, “will you stop looking at my breasts!!!” …..“I can’t !”.
6) AUSSIE IMPORT #6: Nathan Jawai (C/PF, 6ft10 and 280lbs)
- Drafted by Indiana Pacers 2nd round (11th pick, 41st overall) in 2008. Career NBA stats: 9.6MPG, 2.8PPG, 0.435FG%, 2.4RPG, 0.2BPG. NBL stats: 30MPG,17.26 PPG, 9.39 RPG and 1 BPG, 0.570FG% in his one and only season 2007-2008, picking up NBL rookie of the year honours and all-star game MVP.
- Comment: Our beloved behemoth, became the 3rd Australian player to play for the Timberwolves. He caught the local media’s attention very quickly. Of Aboriginal (Indegenous Australian) descent, Jawai was a great ambassador for the game for his culture. Boy was he ever! In his rookie year, he abused opposing players in the post, and his raw brute strength and tenacity led to comparisons between him and Shaq (He was dubbed, “Baby Shaq” or “The Outback Shaq”). Then again, there aren’t many players who play this style of game or even big enough to do so in the NBL. It seems he’s gathered a following here in Minny, we all love our big fat cuddly pivots eg. Kevin Love, Stanley Roberts, and Oliver Miller. I think Jawai has a long way to go, but he’s a fantastic guy and always optimistic. You’d have to be if you keep getting transferred back and forth from D-League. Keep your CHINS up Nate, your time will come !
Peace out…. T_Wolf_In_Sydney (TWiS).
(All stats quoted from www.basketball-reference.com)
(NBL stats taken from The Sports Count, http://thesportcount.com/2009/01/26/aussieballers – also a great site for more information on Australian NBA players, highly recommended)