Something special is going on in the Breakers basketball franchise. The team's victory in Auckland to claim consecutive championship titles will be the envy of bigger, higher-profile sports involved in Australian competitions. The second title, while lacking last year's breakthrough factor, deserves elevation in New Zealand's sporting record for confirming the team's consistency of excellence.
The fact it was won against an opponent as high calibre as the Perth Wildcats in a best-of-three finals series with almost nothing between the sides makes it all the more memorable. Perth had been the league's standard setters and multiple champions.
The Breakers' second title comes in a year they had to do without star Tall Black Kirk Penney, who left to play in Spain's top league. They have recruited strongly and fostered young talent carefully from what is a limited playing pool. As always with successful sports teams, wise old heads like CJ Bruton have balanced the vitality of young stars like Tom Abercrombie and Alex Pledger. Critically, the regard for coach Andrej Lemanis on and off the court is obvious. He spoke after the final of a family culture at the club and of owners who had instilled special values. Top to bottom, the Breakers display a spirit of playing for each other. Team was everything, Lemanis said; even his coach of the year title, as an individual honour, meant nothing.
The repeat championship titles should boost basketball in a way standout, one-off performances or sequences in tournaments have failed to in other sports. The All Whites, the Warriors and even the national men's basketballers have surged to prominence, prompting talk of golden eras, only to slip back into inconsistency and questionable relevance in a rugby-obsessed country. Crowds for the Breakers' regular season and finals nights have been impressive. The first and third finals at the Vector Arena drew record audiences and a city buzz usually reserved for rugby tests. Sports and political leaders, celebrities and the kids all had to be there. The club has its sponsorships, venues and support base active and energised.
Clearly, the speed and physicality of basketball should appeal to those Kiwi kids obsessed with contact sport. A generation or so exposed to America's NBA, and a growth in school competitions, will increase the talent pool. The Breakers' sustained success adds the pivotal ingredient of inspiration. A confidence that basketball here means business and can do the business.
Those who do not follow the game cannot fail to appreciate the pace and unpredictability of top-level basketball. How many sports, other than the excruciating anxiety of the Rugby World Cup final, provoke the tension evident during the Breakers' first finals match - a win - 10 days ago and again in Saturday night's narrow defeat? Netball has its knife-edge finishes but even it seems to be at half-speed by comparison.
The Breakers apart, Auckland has gone a long time without a sporting champion. The Blues rugby set-up has advantages of which a basketball team in this country could only dream. Its systemic failure since 2003 is the antithesis of the Breakers' classy and cohesive progress. The Warriors stand somewhere in the middle, over-hyped but capable of sizzle. The Mystics netballers might this season, after a drastic rebuild, be providing the city with another team to take a bet on.
Being double champions will throw challenges to the Breakers that no side other than the Crusaders Super rugby team have had to face in the past decade: incumbency, complacency and unreasonable expectations. For now, though, the team, its owners, fan base and the city should glory in a sporting achievement that, given the wild-eyed fire of Australian teams to deny the upstarts their due, hardly seemed possible. The Breakers deserve a long and happy timeout.