Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Breakers' challenge - can we run with this sport?

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Cartoon / Rod Emmerson
Cartoon / Rod Emmerson

There have been five outstanding moments in basketball history as far as I'm concerned.

The first two were when Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to world publicity domination. Even Jordan's baseball interlude was mildly interesting.

The first really famous basketballer of this age was Magic Johnson, but just as we were latching on to him, word filtered out there was someone even better around the corner.

There can't be, I remember thinking. Magic is magic. But Jordan - or MJ to people who knew him, which ran to the millions - was so astoundingly famous, not to mention wondrous on both an individual and team level, that even undiscovered cavemen knew he played in number 23.

The Bulls were a planet-wide phenomenon. Citizens unable to work out their own work roster could suddenly name the Bulls roster. These citizens had the most difficulty getting their work roster right when the Bulls were playing in a finals game. We even got upset when they lost.

The other top basketball moments involved watching three brilliant documentaries, all fly-on-the-wall views of young Americans trying to make the big time. One of them, LeBron James, did. Not a bad success rate for the basketball doco genre.

Other basketball recollections are haphazard. There was a short guy at my high school who could jump to touch the hoop, and Dennis Rodman was the most interesting character on television's Celebrity Rehab.

Rodman didn't want to be in a rehab centre, spoke in cryptic when he spoke at all, tried to be a pain in the arse and came across as a lovely bloke.

He may have been a crazy coot who wore a wedding dress, but a fascinating piece on the rebound king described the lengths he went to to understand angles and opponents. Addiction and obsession are common bedfellows, so the personality trait that got Rodman into rehab might have helped him become a basketball superstar.

Oh yes. John Stockton, the little guy in the Utah Jazz, turned out to be over six feet tall. Magic got Aids. And Wilt the Stilt made outrageous claims about his personal life that were mathematical impossibilities.

I would also have to confess that following local basketball has been, in the main, a long-distance affair, with newspaper reports including the weird and wonderful, from a chair-chucking coach to an American import who tried his hand at robbery on the eve of his departure home.

So, what I really know about basketball would have trouble filling one of those clipboards the coaches love so much, and I suspect this is also the story for a lot of Kiwi sports fans. So the success of our very own Breakers is proving an interesting challenge - do we pick up this sport and run with it, and if so, how far?

What I've found with basketball in particular is that when you are not raised on the traditions, tactics and nuances of a sport they can be very hard to pick up, especially in such a structure-free game.

What else? The Moonlight Sonata isn't in any danger of being eclipsed, but the ascending keyboard accompaniments in basketball are quirky and integral. "Defence, defence" won't challenge Imagine in the lyrics department, and English soccer crowds wouldn't be caught shouting anything without a punchline. But "defence, defence" is tradition.

However, whatever tactics those coaches are describing during time-outs go right over my head.

But I do know this. Towards the end of a tight game the adrenalin goes into overdrive - close-fought basketball is as exciting/excruciating as sport gets.

As for skill, slam-dunks might be muscular theatre, but those long three-point throws are the most fascinating scores - such fine-line accuracy in fatigue and under pressure is amazing.

Basketball also involves transitioning and "the paint" and fouling-out and so on and so forth.

Which is all a longwinded way of getting to the point that even a basketball head-scratcher feels very proud of the Breakers, from top to bottom and all point guards in between.

Coach Andrej Lemanis in particular, with players CJ Bruton, Thomas Abercrombie, the ageless Dillon Boucher, Mika Vukona and the rest, chief executive Richard Clarke and the troops, have done themselves, Auckland and the country proud.

Many of us never contemplated a day when a basketball team would rescue this city's professional sporting pride. The rugby team can only be described in words that can't be printed here, the league team has struck yet another weird funk, Australia rules in netball, while two soccer franchises came and went, leaving Wellington to pick up the pieces rather well.

The champion Breakers, who will play in the finals series again starting when Perth steps out at the Vector Arena tomorrow night, sure know what they are doing and are taking an increasing number of fans for the ride.

In the process, they've established a downtown sporting venue just a long pass away from where - in hindsight - Carlaw Park should have been the trailblazer in that regard.

My interest in basketball went into freefall once the Chicago Bulls became just another team. Time to start battling with those tactics and nuances again.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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