In the crowded sporting landscape in New Zealand's biggest city, the Breakers have emerged as the best team - and the hottest ticket - in town. Kris Shannon of APNZ examines why.
1. Blend of local/international talent
The Breakers have found the perfect mix between developing local talent and injecting the team with valuable overseas players - usually a problematic area for New Zealand sides in transtasman competitions.
Americans Cedric Jackson and Gary Wilkinson are two of the best imports in the league, while the growth of Tom Abercrombie and Alex Pledger presents a clear pathway into professional basketball for New Zealand's youngsters. There is no better environment in which future Tall Blacks can learn, with development players Josh Bloxham, Isaac
Fotu and Dion Prewster practising every day with a core of Australian NBL veterans - Aussies CJ Bruton and Daryl Corletto and Kiwis Dillon Boucher and Mika Vukona.
NBA All-Star Allen Iverson may not have agreed - greeting questioning about missing practices with an exasperated, "Practice?! We're talking about practice?'' - but the Breakers' attribute a lot of their intensity during games to what they do during the week at their North Shore gym.
Breakers' trainings have become legendary for their competitiveness, with Bruton - voted the league's worst trash talker - constantly chirping and teammates nearly coming to blows on occasion. Coach Andrej Lemanis has said a particularly aggravated practice would always be followed by a high-intensity performance on game night, so you would be unlikely to find any Breaker loafing or treating training as a bit of fun.
3. Vector Arena
While the North Shore Events Centre remains the Breakers' spiritual home, Vector Arena has played host to the team's 2012 playoff run. All four games have attracted near sell-out crowds, with a downtown stadium providing an obvious lure to traffic-wary Aucklanders.
The Breakers also enjoyed significantly enhanced attendances during three regular-season games there, with subsequent trips to the NSEC serving only to remind how, comparatively, run-down the gym is. Aside from the obvious financial incentives in doubling your attendance, Vector Arena also offers the advantage of an extra 4000 pairs of hands to clap on the team and an extra 4000 voices to banally chant `DEFENCE!'
4. No dickheads
Owner Paul Blackwell's famed recruitment mantra - ``we have a no dickheads policy'' - has seen his side stocked with team-oriented players who, largely, make headlines only on the back pages. Where many teams can be submarined by an import's me-first approach, the Breakers scout players' personalities and much as they do abilities.
So you won't catch any Breakers showing up out of shape in pre-season and remaining that way, much to the chagrin of his teammates, midway through the season. Nor will you find a Breaker responding to abuse on Twitter with a flurry on his own. Because what happens if you step out of line on Blackwell's watch, such as chronic Kronic smoker Corey Webster? Your contract gets terminated.
The Breakers do an admirable job of keeping crowds entertained during timeouts and breaks between quarters, while also getting spectators involved and feeling they can play a part in the team's fortunes. Just this season, the Breakers exhausted the yellow pages looking for different dance groups for halftime entertainment, proffering the usual lithe cheerleaders and the, er, less lithe belly-dancers.
Whether it be a half-court shot with a never-threatened cash prize or a skills competition featuring embarrassingly competitive adults, there is rarely a dull moment
at a Breakers game. If only they could abolish those damned thundersticks.
- APNZBy Kris Shannon Email Kris