The Breakers' run of unprecedented success continued with a ninth straight win last weekend, but they still remain relatively under-appreciated on New Zealand's sporting landscape. Ahead of Friday's showdown against Perth, Kris Shannon of APNZ looks at five reasons why.
1. The expectations
There are a couple of downsides to winning championships. The Breakers have been unaffected by one - American coach Pat Riley's `Disease of More', a concept which states that title-winning players return the following season wanting more playing time, more shots and more money - but they have fallen victim to the other. Back-to-back championships can only enhance expectations among fans and media and, as a result, repeated success becomes ho-hum. The Breakers may have lost just three of 20 games during this campaign but that's what they're supposed to do. They're the Breakers, the best team in the competition with the best roster and arguably the best coach. Rightly or wrongly, a string of victories is now expected.
2. The attitudes
The players may be ruthless on the court, dismantling opponents with the skill of Dexter Morgan, but they are more sweethearts than serial killers when they step outside of the lines. Nice guys finish last and, although the Breakers are sitting atop the Australian NBL standings, their diplomatic nature has seen them fall behind in the public conscience. The entire roster is pleasant and friendly, denying bloodthirsty scribes of a soundbite they can blow out of proportion to generate page views. Coach Andrej Lemanis leads by example in this regard, with his reasoned and rational replies completely bereft of unprovoked pot shots. At least when the inevitable grand final series against Perth eventuates, the sports hacks will have the flame-headed Rob Beveridge to fire up.
3. The competition
There is a perception the ANBL provides an inadequate competition level and games against Perth are the only ones in the regular season worth watching. That theory is backed by the standings but is refuted by visiting coaches. Rather than the bunch falling off the pace, it is instead a case of the front-runners being too good, they argue. That may be the case, but it doesn't change the fact that clashes between the ANBL's most western and eastern teams are the only ones a casual sports fan will care about. The league has had some glamorous clubs in the past - like the three-peat-winning Sydney Kings before they went bust - but it is now lacking sides with the selling power of the Brisbane Broncos, Melbourne Storm or Sydney FC.
4. The scandals
The family values of the club, preached by owners Paul and Liz Blackwell, are well known but they come at a cost. Nothing produces more column inches or talkback calls than a good, juicy scandal. There's a reason the Black Caps and the Phoenix have been hogging the headlines. Perhaps the Ross Taylor captaincy saga was simply a devilish scheme to keep an under-performing side on the back pages? Maybe Gareth Morgan's ranting and raving is to ensure his side remains relevant? The Breakers have had the minor flare-up - Corey Webster's fondness for synthetic cannabis, BJ Anthony's battle with the booze - but both were comparatively minor on the scandal scale and both were dealt with in a swift, appropriate manner. Maybe Mika Vukona needs take a leaf out of former Golden State guard Latrell Sprewell's book - go crazy at practice and choke Lemanis. That might liven things up.
5. The minority
When the Tall Blacks finished fourth at the world championships a decade ago, it seemed as if the world's second-most popular sport was on the precipice of breaking through in New Zealand's crowded sporting landscape. But that's the thing about a precipice - the only way from there is down. Basketball, like football has found after the All Whites' World Cup campaign in 2010, will never consistently compete against this country's traditional sporting codes. If the Warriors were heading for a third-straight NRL title, they would have had a Halberg award by now (the Breakers, incredibly, haven't had a nomination). If the Blues embark on a club-record winning run, especially after last year's fiasco, Sir John Kirwan would be knighted again. But if it's the Breakers? The national broadcaster prefers to run a Blues pre-season story.