ANY GIVEN MONDAY
Well that didn't go so well, did it?
The Breakers' colourful season of calamity has taken on a darker shade of shame with the entirely predictable downfall of Glen Rice Jr.
But hey, at least people are talking about them!
• Basketball: New Zealand Breakers boss Matt Walsh concedes Glen Rice Jr may not play for them again
• Basketball: New Zealand Breakers ordered to stand down Glen Rice Jr after arrest
• Basketball: New Zealand Breakers star Glen Rice Jr arrested after incident
• Basketball: NZ Breakers guard RJ Hampton says sticking up for himself led to ejection
If the early years of this decade seem like another lifetime, it's not just a neat time-warp trick: in terms of the Breakers of then that won four championships in five years, and the Breakers of now that lurch from one embarrassment to the next, they are essentially another club.
The Breakers under the ownership of the Blackwells embodied the sort of team that was easy to admire, even it was in a low-key way.
They were coached to three championships by Australian Andrej Lemanis, a basketball nerd who behaved with all the animation of a high school chemistry teacher, and then protégé Dean Vickerman.
They had a roster full of gritty role players who got as much of a kick out of diving for a loose ball as they did for a rim-rattling dunk. You wouldn't fill too many highlights reels with the work of Paul Henare, Mika Vukona and Dillon Boucher but you knew you were going to get full-blooded, yet intelligent performances from them every time they put on the singlet.
With shrewd import signings – what would the club do for a peak Cedric Jackson now? – and some quality Australian veterans, the Breakers cracked the ANBL code.
'How do you mess this up?': Breakers boss after star's arrest
They were a team that played up above the sum of their parts.
The Breakers under the ownership of the Matt Walsh-headed consortium: they just play up.
The family values espoused by the Blackwells and enforced by the club's coaching and senior players has been replaced by a pseudo-NBA ethos, where the product is only as good as the hype surrounding it.
Much of the connective tissue to the Breakers' glory days has been severed. Henare quit as coach after the 2017season. Boucher, who was fast-tracked from playing ranks to the GM's office, left on the eve of this season.
Most curiously, assistant coach Mike Fitchett quit in the airport after the Breakers' pre-season trip to the States, admitting that his coaching philosophy didn't gel with director of basketball Dan Shamir.
The talk in New Zealand's loosely-knit basketball community is that Fitchett is far from Robinson Crusoe on this point, yet it was another observation that should have rung alarm bells.
"The thing the Blackwells did – and it's something that's important to me personally – was just the emphasis on developing Kiwi players. They've gone a different direction under Matt, and that's fine."
Is it though? Is a direction that leads you from young Kiwi talent to Rice Jr "fine" under any circumstances?
"The stability and underlying values of the Breakers is exactly the environment someone like Glen needs," Walsh said at the time of the signing.
Let's unpack that. Losing a GM and an assistant coach as the season was two ticks of the clock from tip-off is not stability. The "underlying values" of the club are what exactly? We know what they used to be, but can any club that is part-owned by Barstool Sports preach about values?
Perhaps Rice Jr was having his own Blackout Party when he happened into his little midweek "incident".
("Incidents" was the word Shamir used to describe Rice Jr's troubled past, which include arrests for battery, marijuana possession and reckless conduct. He has been suspended from multiple college and pro teams for non-basketball reasons, and in one notable case punched a teammate in the face in the locker room. He is to "incidents" what the Black Death was to "a touch of the flu".)
The Rice Jr shambles is flat-out embarrassing, as is the team's 2-7 record.
Less embarrassing, but worthy of note, is the sense that this team is being used as a thinly veiled audition for RJ Hampton's NBA career. Good on Hampton, you can't hold anything against the kid for doing all he can to maximise his career, but anybody who thinks there's genuine benefits for New Zealand basketball in this is drinking a powerful batch of Kool-Aid.
Yet people defend the Breakers leadership and point to record crowds this season as evidence the franchise is trending in the right direction after a couple of blah seasons.
In that world, hype is more important than hope; a hot ticket is more valuable than a winning one.
It's an uncomfortable thought, one that must make the former owners wince.
There's time to turn it around. Basketball is a big sport in New Zealand, particularly among school-age children. A strong professional franchise is a valuable part of the landscape. The Breakers should be something to aspire to.
When asked in the wake of Rice Jr's suspension whether the Breakers now had a bad-boy image, Walsh said he didn't believe so, but "if that's the narrative people want to create, that's fine".
It's actually not.
THE MONDAY LONG READ ...
This is frightening, and astounding. From newjersey.com. https://www.nj.com/slide-trial/