10 years ago today, Australia came dangerously close to its own ‘Malice at the Palace’ on a night that went down as one of the darkest in NBL history. And it was all thanks to one of the most controversial players to ever visit the country.
This article was originally published by Nick Jungfer on Downtown.
Adelaide 36ers fans were once raised on a steady diet of postseason success and superstar imports. Following the conclusion of the 2006-07 season, they had neither. The Sixers missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade and bid farewell to beloved American shooting guard Willie Farley. When the club reluctantly pulled the plug on injured import Mike Chappell in the midst of a middling campaign the following year, they replaced him with flashy New Yorker, Julius Hodge, formerly of the Nuggets and Bucks. As exciting as he was excitable, Hodge came complete with NBA experience, highlight-reel moves and a megawatt smile. The story of how we got from there to hordes of angry fans baying for his blood outside Adelaide Arena two years later is a strange and complex one. One which could only truly be told by the men at the centre of it all. Everyone quoted below is listed with their job title from December 5, 2009, the night of Hodge’s return to Adelaide.
The Early Days
Jacob Holmes (forward, Adelaide 36ers): I played against Julius in his first NBL game when I was with the South Dragons. He was really average. I remember thinking after that first game, This guy won’t last, and then thinking ten weeks later, This guy is the best player in the league.
Al Westover (head coach, Melbourne Tigers): I first came across Julius when I took a young group of Australian kids to North Carolina. He was playing at North Carolina State then, and I thought at the time he’d be a great player out in Australia.
Adam Ballinger (forward, Adelaide 36ers): He was a special player, but a different kind of player. He could not shoot at all, but it didn’t matter because he was a scorer. He got to the rim and found ways to score. He was a great passer and made other guys better, especially me. I was having a good year that first season [2007-08] and had an even better one once he came in.
Phil Smyth (former Adelaide 36ers head coach): He was a fun guy and a crowd-pleaser. He had a memorable moment in every game nearly, where he’d come up with a big dunk or a big play. He had a really good smile, he was happy out there and if you talked sh*t to him he’d talk sh*t back.
Chris Anstey (centre, Melbourne Tigers): You need people like Julius, with that belief in their own ability, and that ability to step up and make plays regardless of the situation. When things are going badly, that can be really beneficial.
Al Westover: He was a tough matchup in the league, he played really well off of mismatches. He was a very versatile player and a great passer. I think he led the league in assists with us, playing eight games with a broken wrist.
Boti Nagy (journalist, The Advertiser): Adelaide had that five-year run under Phil [Smyth] where they were sensational, winning championships or making semi-finals every year. Then we hit the downturn period. Suddenly, Julius showed up and we were back on the upswing, the graph was pushing up again.
Phil Smyth: By his second or third game in Adelaide, he was nearly at the standing ovation stage. What he did really well was engage the crowd. He’d make a big play, throw down a big dunk… He was one of those guys who’d make a play and then wave his arms up at the crowd to get them involved.
Al Westover: A lot of the time he played for the crowd and tried to get the crowd into it. Sometimes his antics could disturb some people. It’s a tough thing as a coach, because you want discipline and all that, but you also want guys to play with passion, creativity and have a little bit of flair.
Jacob Holmes: He was certainly one of the more different teammates I played with over my 14 years. He was a different cat.
Al Westover: He was the type of guy who would get excited and animated during games, then you talk to him the next day and he’s very level-headed, quiet even. It’s like this different force that emerges when he plays.
Chris Anstey: Unique would be one word to describe Julius. Any time you have a successful team, you need someone in the group that’s a little bit of an X-factor, and he was certainly that. He certainly enjoyed being the centre of attention. Sometimes that was good and sometimes that was bad.
Adam Ballinger: From the start there were two different dudes. The first year he came in, it was Phil Smyth’s last year in Adelaide and my first. He came in part-way through and was great, a great teammate and fun to play with. The next year, he came in part-way through the season again, and it was the opposite. He seemed to have a different kind of agenda, he just wasn’t as much of a team guy.
Jacob Holmes: When he came in the second time, he already had a lot of hype around him. I really think he enjoyed that. He talked a lot of rubbish, and that’s OK, because we’ve all seen that. But it was a very interesting first couple of weeks when Julius came in, and the way he acted around the team was something I hadn’t seen before.
Brad Davidson (former Adelaide 36ers guard): Julius came in with so much fanfare [during year two in Adelaide] that you can see why he was so self-centred and deluded. I think a big factor in his attitude was that he didn’t want to be here after being so close to fulfilling his NBA dream.*
Brett Maher (former Adelaide 36ers guard): In year one, he was light-hearted, jovial, we all got along. Then he came back the second time and had a crew following him around for a while. It turned a little selfish in the second year, but he was still good to be around.
Boti Nagy: He comes back the second time and he’s got Scotty [Ninnis] who wasn’t as important in Phil’s regime as he is now, and Julius is taking advantage of him. I don’t think he treated Scott or his program with the respect it deserved, because his affiliations were with Phil.
Phil Smyth: He was great with us, he was no trouble at all. He was keen, he did everything we wanted and he played really well. He was really good for the team.
Boti Nagy: One of the criticisms of Phil was that he “couldn’t coach younger guys,” which is funny now that he runs an academy for young players. At the time his systems were perfectly suited to experienced players. So when he recruits Hodge, he knows how to handle him.
Phil Smyth: What we asked is that you perform really well on game day, and that you train well. But you won’t be expected to really perform well on the weekend and then have your best training on Monday. So we were understanding of that. For us, Julius played a lot of minutes. If he said, “I’m feeling a bit fatigued”… he usually didn’t because we’d recognise it first… but if he did, we’d say, “OK, these guys that have played a lot of minutes, they’ll be training half an hour less today.” That worked well for his body, and worked well for his game. This isn’t a dig at Scotty or Richard Hill, but we never had any problems with him. So clearly our system worked well for him, and he worked well within our system.
Boti Nagy: I don’t think Julius missed a lot of practices under Phil’s reign, I think he was just handled differently and handled better. He was a different guy the second time around. He may not have come out a different person, but as soon as he read the lay of the land, saw that Phil wasn’t there and that he could get away with some things, he became a different guy.
Jacob Holmes: He wasn’t a big fan of rocking up on time [during his second stint]. He didn’t really enjoy team training. That’s not true, he did enjoy team training, but watching it from the massage table.
Ben Fitzsimons (general manager, Adelaide 36ers): He didn’t always feel like he had to turn up to training on time and those sorts of things, and that doesn’t endear you to guys like Jacob and Brett who are meticulous and smash workouts when they’re injured.
Chris Anstey: It’s fair to say he did lose a few of our guys because of that. You go to war with guys on game day, but the process begins on the training track in the week leading up.
Jacob Holmes: I believe back then I was co-captain with Brad Davidson, and Brett was captain. We had plenty of coffees to discuss what to do with Julius and how to control this player who was unbelievably talented, but to make sure he still buys into the team culture that we were trying to build. Sometimes it was kind of like the whole good cop, bad cop thing. I was often the bad cop, and Mahersy is such a good bloke that he was like the good cop.
Ben Fitzsimons: People get frustrated when they see natural talent being wasted by a bad attitude, and thinking that their talent is going to get them through life. Unfortunately, that’s where Julius was at the time. That’s the knock on him as a professional sportsman, and why he never found a long-term home. He’s always bounced around from one place to the next.
*Brad Davidson stated this on his personal website in 2009, following the announcement that Hodge was returning to the NBL to join the Melbourne Tigers.
The Disappearing Act
In early January 2009, the 36ers had won four of their past six games as they pushed towards a playoff berth in Brett Maher’s final season. They were preparing to continue their momentum with a home game against the Wollongong Hawks in front of more than 6000 fans. There was just one problem. As game time approached, Julius Hodge — in his second stint with Adelaide at the time — was nowhere to be seen, despite being named in the lineup. Hodge had previously complained about issues receiving payment, and while many of the players and coaches in the Adelaide locker room knew this was likely why Hodge hadn’t shown, none of them were previously informed of his intentions to miss that particular game. Despite 36ers operations manager Paul Bauer stating that the club felt the issue had been resolved on the afternoon of the game, Hodge never played for Adelaide again. To add a further twist to the tale, it was later reported that Hodge was initially signed by the Sixers with money from Christopher Wayne Fuss, who was jailed in 2011 for stealing $27 million from Flinders University between 2008 and 2010. The club and Hodge were both unaware of Fuss’s criminal activity.
Adam Ballinger: That night was bizarre. You kind of figured it was heading towards that because he’d missed practices when he was saying he wasn’t getting what was in his contract. It definitely made preparation different on game night. There was definitely a different feel around the team that night, but it wasn’t like we couldn’t believe that he wasn’t there.
Phil Smyth: You’ve got to understand that Julius comes from an environment where if you don’t get paid, you don’t play. He’s a professional. He’s thinking, This is my business, this is how I make my living. That’s the environment he was brought up in. In Australia, we’re little bit more along the lines of, OK, we understand you’ve got a few problems, and yeah OK, we can wait another week.
Brett Maher: Things really turned when the club stopped paying him. So Julius asked me for my advice. I advised him that the only way you can guarantee to get paid is to sit out, which is what ended up happening. From there he didn’t communicate with the team that he wasn’t going to come to training or whichever games, and so as a team we didn’t really know what was going on. I believe where his animosity came from was that I was asked to make a public comment on behalf of the club, and I said I didn’t think it was right that he hadn’t let the training group know which trainings or games he was going to miss. There wasn’t a problem with him missing them, just that we didn’t know which games he was intending on playing.
Ben Fitzsimons: I believe it was a private conversation initially, and when public comments came out, they were team-first type commentary. So Julius felt a bit alienated, thinking, Hang on, you guys told me that if I’m not getting paid I should stop playing, and that’s what I did, so why am I in trouble now? It became a big mess of “he said, she said,” egos and everything else.
Brett Maher: I think from Julius’ perspective, my comments got embroiled into the rest of the comments that came out from the management of the club, and the disliking of me brewed from there a little bit. That kept brewing, and when he returned with Melbourne that was obviously in the back of his mind, and boiled to the front [laughs].
Jacob Holmes: Brett was the one guy who was behind Julius the whole way. Plenty of guys jumped off the bandwagon the year before when we realised he was just doing his own thing. But Mahersy never did, he never wavered in his support for Julius. Mahersy in particular was his best advocate the whole way along, even when Julius became sort of untenable… and then he jumps on Brett’s name.
Brett Maher: I understood the situation that he was in. You feel a little bit sorry for guys who aren’t getting paid, and more so for imports. They’re coming out here, away from their homes, and they’re not getting what they expect.
Jacob Holmes: That’s just Mahersy, that’s just what he’s like. Looking back, it was probably a veteran understanding what it was like to be in Julius’ position. So then for Julius to take it out on Mahersy was ridiculous. I was thinking, He was the only person who was there for you the whole time.
Brad Davidson: I think the Adelaide 36ers were at fault to start the disintegration of the relationship, but Julius was at fault thereafter. Not once has he said he wished he’d done something differently so he could’ve stayed in this place that he claims to love so much.*
Boti Nagy: Julius and his agent tried to paint it a different way, about not getting paid on time and this sort of stuff. When he refused to play and then left the 36ers group that Scott was running, he had been paid. Everything was paid, everything was good, it was like “everything can move forward now.” If he had complaints prior to that, fair enough. He may well have had a case, but at the point in which he chose to leave the club, he didn’t have a case.
*This quote was sourced from Brad Davidson’s personal website in 2009 and was lightly edited for clarity.
In November 2009, Hodge confirmed his heavily rumoured return to the NBL when he signed with the Melbourne Tigers. The 36ers were 7-5 when Hodge came back to Adelaide with his new team. Despite eventually claiming the dishonour of last place, Adelaide had done a passable job at that point of adjusting to life without Hodge and Maher.
Boti Nagy: We knew it was going to be a volatile situation because he’d been stirring things up during the week. Julius wasn’t conciliatory in any way, he was just throwing petrol on the fire. We sent two reporters that night, myself and Scott Walsh from the Sunday Mail, and we don’t send two reporters very often.
Scott Walsh (journalist, Sunday Mail): Clearly we were expecting some fire. When you have contract disputes, where everything’s centred around money, there aren’t any winners.
Boti Nagy: There was such a feeling of seething animosity from the fans towards Julius that night. He’d left the club in the lurch. The crowd here in Adelaide are well informed, they know what’s going on. You can’t bullsh*t them. So when you come back to town with the opposition, the crowd is waiting for you. It’s almost like an ambush, they’re just waiting for you to come back.
Scott Walsh: Just that primal reaction from the crowd… There’s almost a bit of an obligation for crowds to boo and all that sort of thing, but here there was a very genuine and organic hatred towards him.
Jacob Holmes: I was extremely fired up. There was a lot of stuff that went on beforehand. He’d been saying a few things about the team and the community, both externally and around the basketball community that we’d heard. We were pretty keen to have a crack. I just remember being so angry that Julius was coming here, saying all the things he was saying. I thought he had no idea of the impact he had on the culture of the team the previous year, and he was still acting like that.
Adam Ballinger: We were pumped up, it was Julius. With the way things ended the year before, we were definitely excited to play against him. The fans were excited to cheer against him too. Adelaide fans are pretty passionate, and they especially like to hate on some of the guys coming back into town, which made for a great atmosphere for us.
Scott Walsh: I don’t think it was actually at capacity that night, but it certainly felt like a capacity crowd. The fans were riding Hodge any time he was involved in the play. They made their feelings very well felt.
Boti Nagy: Nothing will ever top what was done to Mark Bradtke when he came back in ’93. I felt sorry for him, and I don’t usually feel sorry for incoming villains. The way Goulding copped it a couple of years ago was pretty good, the way Shane Heal copped it was pretty good. That’s what Julius got, but he was getting it with more of a seething sense of animosity.
Scott Walsh: He didn’t have much of a game at all that night. There were a couple of passes where he tried to get a bit cute and threw the ball out of bounds, and he just got booed out of the arena.
Jacob Holmes: The game got tight and he started talking a lot of trash and flailing around. I’m never the most athletic player, but I don’t mind physical contact, so I was happy to take on that challenge. I remember playing him really hard and physical all game. We had a few wrestles and tussles. He may have fallen over once accidentally, or on purpose.[embedded content]
Adam Ballinger: The game was going really well, we were winning. Then we had a couple of late turnovers. Wortho hit two big, late threes. Then we had another turnover and couple of mistakes that shouldn’t have been made. They end up winning. That was a game we needed, it would’ve been a huge win for us. We had it, but we ended up losing a game we shouldn’t have at home, and everyone was really disappointed.
As the final buzzer sounded, Hodge triumphantly raised his hands to the ceiling. Without skipping a beat, he marched over to Brett Maher’s recently installed signature at centre court and stomped on it. As one of the few players who was immediately aware of what had occurred, Mark Worthington wrapped his arms around his emotional teammate and attempted to drag him away from the scene of the crime. But Hodge went back for more. A wall of noise, led by raucous “Hodge is a wanker” chants, immediately tumbled down from the stands as over 5000 fans focused their energy and hatred on one target. As Hodge went back for a third go, Adelaide general manager Ben Fitzsimons furiously confronted him at centre court. The two exchanged words before Jacob Holmes removed Fitzsimons from the growing pack of players. The Melbourne playing group then did the same with Hodge, suddenly sensing the urgent need to get him off the floor.[embedded content]
Ben Fitzsimons: Julius and I are close. When there was a YouTube video that went up when he left Adelaide, I’m the guy who filmed it, putting out his two cents of why he decided not to play and show up. That’s how close I feel I am to Julius. So he does his stomp thing, and in my mind I’m going, Yeah righto, get it out of your system dude, I know why you’re doing that. Then he went back and did it again and the crowd went bananas.
Phil Smyth: I think there was a little bit of tongue in cheek involved. I don’t think it was quite as bitter as people are making it sound. For Julius, there would’ve been a bit of cheek in it, if you know him and what he’s like.
Jacob Holmes: I don’t know if I actually saw it live, but I knew something was going on because of the reaction from people nearby. I heard this noise, and then I saw Ben Fitz at centre court. I went over to Ben and said, “What are you doing?” It’s all a bit of a blur.
Ben Fitzsimons: I’m two metres away from Julius as he does it and I know what that Adelaide crowd is like. I’ve seen Matt Nielsen chase people into the stands, I’ve seen what they’ve tried to do to Shane Heal, Stephen Black and others. I’m thinking, This is going to tee off. So I’ve gone over and told Julius to shut up and get out of here, and now he’s starting on me. I thought because of the history and friendship I’ve got with him, that of all the people there, I’d be able to get him to snap out of it. But he kept going.[embedded content]
Adam Ballinger: It happened without any of us seeing it right away. The whole situation could’ve been a lot worse if that happens with all the players watching it directly and guys get fired up. It could’ve become a lot more physical, a lot uglier.
Al Westover: I don’t think it’s anything he planned to do, it was probably something that just happened. That was a bit of his flamboyant personality. He got the win and got emotional.
Brett Maher: My role at the time was to interview the players and coaches in the club restaurant after games. So I was just sitting upstairs getting questions ready. As it happened I just thought, Oh no, this isn’t good for anyone. I knew it was going to turn into a sh*tstorm from there.
Adam Ballinger: Wortho kind of pulled Julius away while he was doing it and maybe told him to settle down a bit. If Wortho’s doing that, you know it’s probably not the best thing to do.
Brett Maher: I walked down there, as I usually did to grab the stats, and he’d been dragged out by his teammates by the time I got down to ground level. It wasn’t as if I was going to chase him out there and pick a fight with him or anything.
Boti Nagy: When he stomped on Brett’s signature, the place went crazy. People started coming down the aisles towards the court.
Scott Walsh: I’d chosen to sit up in the stands, and the battery was running low on my laptop. So there I am, directly on deadline, running around trying to find a power point to sit down on the concrete and type out my story, as furious people are storming past.
Boti Nagy: I’d never seen a situation which had similar potential to get really ugly and violent, and Julius was inciting it. It was by far the most volatile situation I’ve ever seen at that venue.
Scott Walsh: People were trying to jump the barriers. There were a lot of obscenities, a lot of things being hurled at Julius as he was taken down the tunnel, and he certainly invited it all upon himself.
Jacob Holmes: If we had our time back again, we would probably like to have got in Julius’ face a bit more, but I’ve never done that after a game for any reason. When it was over and we’d lost, I was just disappointed. I was just thinking, He’s just not going to stop talking about this.
Adam Ballinger: Our guys were pissed off about the stomp thing, but everyone was also pissed off about losing the game. Maybe if we’d won we would’ve been extra fired up. Guys were still fired up, for sure. Brett did a lot for them when he was there, he had the guys over to his house and they were all pretty good friends.
Boti Nagy: Julius didn’t have the sense to realise, This is getting out of hand, I better pull my head in and get out of here. Instead, he was just egging the crowd on. You only had a handful of security guards, and in a crowd of that size, there’s bound to be one idiot. All those people being incited like that; it was a really dangerous situation. It was like a powder keg, and that thing was just about ready to explode when they got him down into the tunnel.
Scott Walsh: Just the nature of basketball, 5000 people so close to the court, so close to the action, so close to each other, all unified against one central character who was quite happy to play the villain. It was a near riot, it really was. It was so close to exploding into something more. I think even just the sight of him remaining on the floor would’ve incited something worse than what we saw.
Ben Fitzsimons: The only thing that really annoyed me was when he spat on Brett’s name and ground his foot into it. That’s probably crossing the line.
Brett Maher: It was just a feeling of disbelief and disappointment that someone would do that, to spit on it and all that. He obviously had a fair bit of pent-up anger.
Jacob Holmes: It was one of the most disrespectful things I’ve ever seen in professional sport.
As the Tigers whisked Hodge off the floor, he was peppered with drink bottles, food containers and verbal abuse. Security staff did all they could to keep fans away from the floor, as Hodge seemingly did all he could to inflame the situation further, yelling and motioning at the crowd. Once Melbourne had finally disappeared down the players’ race, wild scenes were still audible through their locker room door. It was clear the situation wasn’t going to calm down any time soon, even before the Tigers got word that a large group of furious Adelaide fans was waiting for Hodge outside the arena. Melbourne decided to abandon their post-game routine and their team vans, which would normally be waiting for them outside, were brought down into the bowels of the arena. Tigers personnel then did their best to hide Hodge, wedging him between several teammates inside the van, in the hope of smuggling him out of the carpark undetected.[embedded content]
Ben Fitzsimons: I knew I had to work out how to take control of the situation, and go outside to the back of the stadium, where there was a group of 200 people or so waiting for the Tigers cars at the top of the ramp. Bearing in mind I’ve known 36ers fans to slash tires of team cars, throw rocks at them, and all that sort of stuff. People get a bit out of control.
Chris Anstey: The thing with the Adelaide stadium is that you don’t get a lot of privacy with where you park your team bus. You don’t have a secure area to park, which can be problematic. You park in that ramp that goes down into the stadium, and the fans can line up pretty close by. It was pretty rough getting out of there. We had to, you know, not exactly accelerate through people, but we certainly felt like, “F*ck, we’ve just got to get out of here.”
Al Westover: When we left, I think we had to have a police escort to the van and out of the stadium. Although that’s probably no different to any other time in Adelaide [laughs].
Ben Fitzsimons: While I’m out the back, trying to deal with all that, I see Julius. I was half-expecting him to give me a high-five and say, “Dude, look at what we got the crowd doing.” But he’d lost his mind. It was only then that I realised he was actually on a different planet. Even his mentors were there trying to calm him down. But he was fighting his teammates, he was fighting anyone, he was so emotional.
In the days that followed a chaotic night which threatened to turn violent, NBL general manager Chuck Harmison concluded that Hodge’s actions did not warrant punishment from the league office. “While it is clear that Julius Hodge’s actions on Saturday night were ill-conceived and juvenile, we do not consider them to be a breach of the NBL’s code of conduct,” Harmison said at the time.
Ben Fitzsimons: He couldn’t see that Julius had done anything wrong. Other GMs at the time said, “Chuck, if an Australian stomped on the American flag, would you be upset?” Chuck said, “Oh, well that’s different,” and those GMs said “How?” It was being discussed in the open at a general managers’ meeting, and yet Chuck did nothing about it.
Chuck Harmison (general manager, NBL): I think I would still support that decision. I don’t think it was worthy of a suspension. Certainly it was disrespectful, but I don’t think it was worthy of a suspension. He didn’t physically hurt anyone. It wasn’t like he smacked somebody in the head or anything like that.
Ben Fitzsimons: That person [Harmison], thankfully, no longer has anything to do with the NBL. That’s when you lose complete faith in people who’re in charge of the league.
Chuck Harmison: I don’t think there was an official report lodged by Adelaide. I believe that’s what I said at the time, and that was the case.
Ben Fitzsimons: A request for Chuck to take action was absolutely, absolutely requested. I gave him all the evidence, I sent him the footage of Julius spitting on Brett’s signature. I also sent him a Facebook post from Julius which said, “Adelaide can suck my d*ck,” and he refused to do anything about it. They didn’t actually look for anything, they never asked me any questions, they never requested any information, nothing.
Boti Nagy: Chuck is a lovely guy, I really like him as a person. But I think sometimes, because he knows players on a personal level, he cuts them slack that you wouldn’t otherwise.
Chuck Harmison: I didn’t know Julius on a personal level at all. I’d been out of the league an awful long time as a player. If you go back to my early years as GM of the league, there were probably a few players around that I’d played against. Perhaps it could’ve been a criticism then, but certainly not in this case.
Boti Nagy: Chuck didn’t see the way it unfolded, he wasn’t there in that atmosphere, and he cut Julius slack that he didn’t deserve.
Meanwhile, key figures at the Melbourne Tigers were in damage control. Genuinely sorry for what had occurred, a consortium of Tigers led by Al Westover, Mark Worthington and Chris Anstey swiftly and sincerely apologised to Brett Maher and the Adelaide 36ers, both publicly and in person.
Chris Anstey: I remember going on the record straight away and saying I thought it was extraordinarily disrespectful. Brett Maher was a teammate of mine at the Sydney Olympics, and I don’t think you’ll find many people in the wider Australian basketball community who would have too many bad things to say about him. I certainly respect him highly. I apologised to Brett as soon as I could following the incident, because that certainly wasn’t something that we wanted to be reflective of how the club viewed him.
Boti Nagy: At the press conference, Al Westover and Mark Worthington both distanced themselves from what Julius had done and apologised sincerely. They did their best to calm the situation down and say that it wasn’t a reflection of the Melbourne Tigers, that it was just one guy going crazy. They were fantastic and carried themselves with a lot of class. They also had the Melbourne Tigers brand and reputation foremost in their minds.
Chris Anstey: It was something that we then dealt with internally. I think any time you’re addressing something that’s emotional, it’s best to do so when you’re not emotional. When we got back to Melbourne, we didn’t sit Julius down and have a meeting, but within the training environment we made it pretty clear that it wasn’t what we considered acceptable and that it shouldn’t have happened.
Al Westover: Unfortunately, those things do happen in sport. Up in Brisbane we won a semi-final and Chris [Anstey] was flipping off the crowd. You know, you have episodes like that and I’m sure guys regret it afterwards. I’ve done things I’ve regretted afterwards. Sometimes sport just does that to you. You just try to learn from those things and not make the same mistakes.
Boti Nagy: As a sportsperson, you have that window of say 13 years when you can really be somebody. I think Julius was realising he was coming towards that, and he was happy to be in the spotlight as a villain, as a good guy, as anything. He didn’t care.
Ben Fitzsimons: Julius stomped on Brett’s name so that people would remember him. It’s sad, because we should remember him for being an incredible basketball player.
Jacob Holmes: It’s something I definitely laugh about now, how ridiculous that someone stomps on a written name on a basketball court, when you really stop and think about it. Mahersy can laugh about it, so we can definitely all laugh about it.
Brett Maher: We had that High Stakes Hoops tournament the next year. He matched up on me for a bit of that and was talking some smack to me during the game [laughs]. Our team ended up winning by about 20. But yeah, he was still at it, he hadn’t lost the venom.
Ben Fitzsimons: He and I talked it out during High Stakes Hoops, we had a good chat about everything. He still messages me on Twitter and stuff like that. I understand him, sympathise with him, and I feel sorry for him. I think his life should’ve been very different.
Boti Nagy: Had management brought Julius in sooner [the first time around], they make the playoffs, his guy Phil is still the coach the next season and the history could’ve been so different. In that case, Hodge is the first choice for import the following season, which means he cements his legacy here in South Australia and becomes considered in the same breath as guys like Mark Davis, Willie Farley, Darnell Mee and Kevin Brooks.
Adam Ballinger: He definitely could’ve gone down as one of the best imports we’ve ever had if he stuck around. His skill level and the way fans rallied around him, really enjoyed watching him, he could’ve been one of those guys for sure.
Ben Fitzsimons: Showman, performer, everything… he had everything.
Julius Hodge and Mark Worthington could not be reached for comment. Scott Ninnis declined multiple interview requests for this story.
This article was originally published in 2016 by Downtown, an Australian basketball site which operated from 2013 until 2017 and was run by Liam Santamaria (before he became a hotshot) and Tommy Greer (already a hotshot at the time).