Foundation player Paul Henare thinks the New Zealand Breakers are not getting the credit they deserve despite making the Australian National Basketball League final for the first time.
The Breakers came back from 0-1 down to grind out 2-1 victory in the semifinal series against the Perth Wildcats, winning the final game 99-83 in front of a delirious home crowd at North Shore Events Centre last night.
Their final opponents will be either the Townsville Crocodiles or Cairns Taipans, who play the third match of their semifinal series on Sunday.
The Breakers dominated the regular season, winning 22 of 28 games, but their toughness was questioned after Perth dominated the opening game of the semifinals series 101-78.
However, they secured an unexpected 93-89 victory in Perth on Sunday, and ran away with the third game after dominating an at-times physical contest.
"I think we're a little bit underestimated when it comes to character and heart and intensity," Henare said. "Some of it could have been true in terms of the way we finished the season, but I just can't believe how little respect we get.
"We finished the season 22 and six, we were the best team in the league by far during the regular season. There's still a lot of knockers out there but we realise that comes with the territory."
Henare has been with the Breakers for all of their eight seasons.
He announced his retirement from the team earlier this season and now gets to play his last matches for the Breakers in a finals series.
"We've achieved a lot of firsts already -- the road record we've achieved this year, the overall record, even just getting to a game three of a semifinals. Last time we were in the semis (two seasons ago) we lost to the Melbourne Tigers in two games," he said.
"Just getting to this point we've achieved something we haven't done before, and I think it's important to recognise when you do actually achieve milestones.
"There is something higher that we're aiming for, but I think you should appreciate what you've accomplished along the way as well."
A member of the New Zealand team who finished fourth at the 2002 world championship, Henare is delighted at what the Breakers have done for New Zealand basketball.
"When you look at the crowd tonight, when you look at the support we've been getting the past few weeks, especially we're bringing the love and the passion and the enjoyment into the sport again, and people are really getting behind us," he said after last night's victory.
"Although we are an Auckland-based side we can feel the whole of the country's getting in behind us.
"It's like us against the rest of the clubs, New Zealand against Australia, it's really fun and it's got a similar feel to it."
The first final game of the finals, in Auckland on Wednesday, has sold out.