11.30pm - by AINSLEY THOMSON

The Tall Blacks, who captivated the nation during their amazing run at the basketball world championships last year, have won New Zealand's top sporting prize.

The team, virtual no-names who reached the top four in the world, were named Team of the Year at last night's Halberg Awards.

They then headed off golfer Craig Perks (Sportsman of the Year) and board sailor Barbara Kendall (Sportswoman of the Year) to capture the Supreme Award.


The Tall Blacks' dominance was underlined when coach Tab Baldwin was named Coach of the Year.

Baldwin, who guided the Tall Blacks from minnows to automatic qualifiers for the next Olympics, was presented with his award by the man he calls his mentor, Sir Edmund Hillary.

In return, Sir Edmund was presented with an honorary Halberg Award to mark the 50th year since he conquered Mt Everest, the world's highest peak, in 1953. Although the awards began in 1949, Sir Edmund never won the top award.

The Tall Blacks were on a roll last year, scoring a stunning series win over Australia, then beating Hungary, China and the defending world champions Yugoslavia in the lead-up to the world championships.

Ranked 23 for the championships in Indianapolis, they scored come-from-behind wins over Russia and China and then toppled Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals to reach the final four and earn a place at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Three former basketball greats, John McDonald, Stan Hill and Steve McKean, paid tribute to the team while Tall Black and Miami Heat star Sean Marks exchanged banter with his team-mates via a video link.

The night belonged to the Tall Blacks, but the shadow of Team New Zealand was everywhere.

Several of the 1200 guests at the Auckland Showgrounds sported "Loyal" face makeup to show their support for the America's Cup sailors in their showdown with Alinghi.

None of the NZ sailors attended the awards. They spent their time practising on the Hauraki Gulf and then working on NZL82. (Race four of the regatta was called off yesterday because of unstable winds.)

Yachting was the main topic of conversation, especially speculation about whether Alinghi skipper Russell Coutts would be eligible for an award if his team win the cup.

The black theme carried through the awards, which recognise outstanding sporting achievements by New Zealand sports men, women and teams over the previous 12 months.

Dress was black tie and the reception room was decked out in black.

Among the guests were newlyweds Silver Fern Bernice Mene and cricketer Dion Nash, and sevens star Dallas Seymour and his wife, Silver Fern Julie Seymour.

Warriors captain Stacey Jones was the most popular sports star with the students from Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar, who queued for autographs in between waiting at tables.

"Actually it's because I'm one of the only finalists here," he claimed.

Among the sports stars who presented awards were surfer Maz Quinn, Mene, yachting legend Chris Bouzaid and New Zealand women's soccer player Maia Jackman. She gave Perks his award via a satellite link-up with Los Angeles.

Former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick and round-the-world and America's Cup yachting legend the late Sir Peter Blake were inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.

Lady Pippa Blake and Bronwyn Fitzpatrick received the awards from former Olympian Les Mills.