Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
The past twelve months have seen the NBL continue to grow bigger and better at a remarkably rapid pace.
Arenas are filling up – some are already bursting at the seams – and the quality of the product on display is at an all-time high.
As we’ve heard many times, this is a golden age of Australian basketball and our domestic league is playing a big role in driving that progress.
So, as 2018 draws to a close, it’s time to take stock and look back on the ten biggest NBL moments of the year.
From the excitement of expansion, a boatload of NBLxNBA clashes and the biggest free agent signing in the history of the league – there were so many momentous moments to consider when constructing this list.
Of course, not all of them could make it in. The emotional Haka performed for retiring Breakers legend Kirk Penney, for instance, receives an honourable mention. As does last season’s 40th Anniversary Team and Coolio performing Gangsta’s Paradise at last season’s Awards Night (truth is Coolio only misses because this is a ‘biggest’ list and not a ‘favourites’ list. Otherwise he’s in. Maybe top five!).
With all that said, here are the ten biggest NBL moments of 2018.
Game Winners for Days
There’s nothing more beautiful or exciting in sport than a last-second shot falling through the net to win a basketball game. There just isn’t. And over the past twelve months NBL fans have been blessed with a boatload of game-winning shots.
Here’s just a snapshot:
Bryce Cotton in Brisbane (Jan) – Cotton’s two-dribble fade-away over former DPOY Adam Gibson was ice cold.
Mitch Norton in New Zealand (Feb) – A last-second heave from just inside half-court. Epic celebrations.
Josh Boone in New Zealand (Mar) – Another heartbreaker for the Breakers… this one ended their season and sent Melbourne to the Grand Final.
Cam Gliddon in Adelaide (Nov) – Catch and splash from the corner.
Bryce Cotton vs Brisbane (Nov) – 37 points and the long-range game-winner sent the Red Army (and at least one commentator) into delirium.
Tom Abercrombie in Brisbane (Nov) – A wild final possession that ended in nothing but net from the veteran. Bullets shot down again.
Mitch McCarron vs Sydney (Nov) – Left-handed tip-in for the win.
Jordair Jett in Adelaide (Dec) – Spinning and winning off the glass.
David Wear in Perth (Dec) – A huge three-ball to silence the critics and conquer the ‘Cats in the Jungle.
It’s safe to say the season has lived up to the hype and then some.
— NBL (@NBL) December 19, 2018
The Quadruple Overtime Game
The opening round of NBL19 included only the second quadruple overtime game in NBL history, setting the scene for what has been an outrageously close season thus far.
Melbourne and Illawarra slugged it out for nearly three hours of actual time on October 12, with United eventually holding on for a 123-122 win.
This year’s 4OT game will forever be remembered for its incredible length but what made it even more special, was the brilliant shot-making exhibited from both teams. It was, to put it simply, an absolute pleasure to watch.
We’re still coming to terms with what we witnessed last night..
— NBL (@NBL) October 12, 2018
Illawarra’s Indigenous Game
Some games become about much more than just the sport.
Perth’s pink game has achieved that status over the past couple of years and this year the Illawarra Hawks put on a celebration of Indigenous culture that captured the attention of the entire league.
It must be said, there have been Indigenous jerseys worn previously in the NBL – heck, the Breakers pay homage to New Zealand’s Maori culture every single game – but there was something about Illawarra’s celebration that was extra special.
By involving past and former Indigenous players from around the league, the Hawks spread their wings, wrapping them around the entire NBL in a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The event was a game-changer and, after a couple more teams rock Indigenous jerseys later this season, the league plans to expand the celebration next season.
Huge respect for @illawarrahawks on their historic night.
It’s about acknowledging and celebrating Indigenous Australia through our spectacular sport of basketball. pic.twitter.com/MxCsGNcwou
— Patrick Mills (@Patty_Mills) December 16, 2018
The Melee in Manila
Whilst the horrible events in the Philippines earlier this year didn’t technically occur during an NBL game, there were so many NBL players involved that it felt – and still feels – like a big story involving our league.
Proudly representing our country overseas, many of the NBL’s brightest stars – guys like Chris Goulding, Nathan Sobey, Daniel Kickert and Jason Cadee – were suddenly caught up in one of the scariest brawls in basketball history.
The whole thing was just sickening and thank goodness nobody was seriously hurt, especially Goulding or Sobey who were both left in really precarious situations.
The events in Manila became a global news story and, while it was difficult to know where exactly to rank it on this list, number seven seems about right with all things considered.
Rise of the Phoenix
The league took its first big steps towards expansion this year with the announcement of the South East Melbourne Phoenix as the ninth NBL franchise.
The location of the team made a whole bunch of sense and, after unveiling their logo and colours, the Phoenix made a splash by signing 2018 NBL Fan’s MVP Mitch Creek to a two-year deal.
General Manager Tommy Greer has hit the ground running and he’s currently making fans very nervous as he walks through NBL arenas. The question is: who will he sign next?
The NBL’s Summer League Takeover
The Nevada desert was swarming with NBL peeps earlier this year as Aussies ramped up their presence at the NBA Summer League.
Almost every NBL team had a crew in Vegas scouting for imports while a whole bunch of Aussies and NBL18 stars did their best to gain training camp invitations.
The work done by coaches and GMs at Summer League resulted in guys like Jacob Wiley (Adelaide), Melo Trimble (Cairns), Devon Hall (Cairns), Casper Ware (Melbourne) – I can’t believe that dude still hasn’t received his Range Rover! – and Terrico White (Perth) all landing on (or returning to) Australian shores.
The biggest story, though, was Mitch Creek, who started a whole bunch of games for Dallas and fell just short of securing a two-way deal with the Mavs.
Creek’s journey was fascinating to watch as he took NBL fans inside his thoughts and feelings on a daily basis during two of the biggest weeks of his professional life.
In the end, the former Adelaide star earned an Exhibit 10 deal with Brooklyn and the man is currently doing work for the Nets’ G League affiliate, hoping to score a 10-day contract early next year.
Go you good thing!
What an absolute blast these two weeks have been. Shoutout to everyone who followed plus the ballers and coaches that gave up their time. ?
— NBL (@NBL) July 20, 2018
The turnstiles were spinning throughout 2018 as the league smashed attendance records left, right and centre.
The average crowd at games last season was the highest in NBL history and the Grand Final Series between Melbourne and Adelaide was the highest ever attended, breaking the previous record set in 1992.
This season the crowds have risen even higher, with the league on track to set a new all-time record.
Importantly, broadcast audiences have also risen with the free to air audience on Nine being 10 percent higher compared to the same period last year.
Onwards and upwards!
Highest attendance for a Grand Final Series ✅
Highest average crowds in NBL history ✅
— NBL (@NBL) April 1, 2018
The 2018 Grand Final Series
Man, how good was that series!
Hyped as potentially the greatest Grand Final Series in league history, NBL18’s epic five-game battle between Melbourne and Adelaide did not disappoint.
I mean, that series had everything you could want from a championship decider. It went the distance, teams held serve at home, there was passion, drama, controversy and big-time players coming up huge under the brightest of lights.
The most memorable moment of that series for me, though, was Nathan Sobey’s ejection in Game 3. The whole thing pivoted on that moment.
When that whole messy situation took place, the series was locked at 1-1 and the 36ers were leading, on the road, with a chance to go up 2-1 heading back to Adelaide to close it out. But with Sobey out of the game, Melbourne rallied and held on for a crucial home win.
In the end, Chris Goulding’s white-hot shooting in Game 5 – as well as excellent play from Casper Ware and Casey Prather – helped United secure their first title since re-branding in 2014.
It was a particularly emotional moment for Goulding, the face of the franchise, who was named Grand Final MVP after leading his team to the Promised Land.
— NBL (@NBL) April 1, 2018
Seven games? Are you serious?
That was the immediate response from most NBL fans upon hearing of the 2018 NBLxNBA pre-season schedule.
After breaking new ground in 2017 with three NBLxNBA games, the bar was significantly raised in Year Two with five teams invited to the US and Canada to play a total of seven NBA games.
It was a pretty surreal couple of weeks as NBLxNBA games were taking place almost every other night, culminating in a three-game feast on October 5.
Sure, there were a couple of heavy losses, but we almost snatched a win a few times too! The Kings asked a whole bunch of questions of the Clippers, the Breakers went the distance in Phoenix and the Perth Wildcats went down to Denver by single digits.
One of these days, man. One of these days!
— NBL (@NBL) October 16, 2018
Andrew Bogut’s Arrival
The arrival of Andrew Bogut has been a game-changer for the NBL.
Without a doubt the biggest free agent signing in the history of the league, the former number one NBA Draft pick has brought an unprecedented level of interest to the competition.
What has made it even more special is how well he’s playing. The 2015 NBA Champion is a dominant force and, with the Bogey Man leading the way, the Sydney Kings have vaulted to the top of the NBL ladder.
If he stays healthy, they’ll probably win the title. And they’ll do it in front of massive crowds at Qudos Bank Arena and everywhere else around the country.
The Bogut Factor is in full effect, ladies and gents, and it’s not only the Kings that are reaping the rewards.
— NBL (@NBL) April 24, 2018