The NBL is regarded as one of the premier basketball leagues in the world and, after it’s humble beginnings, it’s now home to some of the world’s best players.
New South Wales Basketball president John Raschke sat with ten interested parties in an unused aircraft hangar at Sydney Airport to discuss the formation of a national competition that would help develop the sport throughout the country. In 1979, the league launched its inaugural season and the NBL was born.
A national competition was also seen as a way of improving the standard of players who could compete for Australia at international tournaments. The Boomers are now considered an international basketball powerhouse following a fourth placed finish at the Rio 2016 Olympics, a bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and FIBA Asia Cup wins in 2017 and 2022.
Since its first game in 1979, the NBL has grown from a fledgling competition with crowds of just a few hundred people to a league that attracts over 750,000 spectators a season, as well as prime-time television slots for games to be broadcast both nationally and internationally.
Between 1979 and 1997 the NBL was played from April to September, however the league is now played in the summer months of the year. As the competition has grown so has participation in basketball in Australia. It’s now one of the most played sports in the country.
Ten sides currently compete in the NBL – the Adelaide 36ers, Brisbane Bullets, Cairns Taipans, Illawarra Hawks, Melbourne United, New Zealand Breakers, Perth Wildcats, South East Melbourne Phoenix, Sydney Kings and, the newest addition to the competition, Tasmania JackJumpers.
The NBL Next Stars program was introduced into the league for the 2018-19 season with the aim of contracting young and exciting overseas players with the goal of helping them reach the NBA.
Notable players to have passed through the program include LaMelo Ball (Illawarra), Josh Giddey (Adelaide) and Ousmane Dieng and RJ Hampton (New Zealand).
St Kilda won the inaugural championship in 1979 and became the first side to ever go back-to-back by repeating the feat in 1980. Their withdrawal from the competition to compete in the World Club Championship saw Launceston become the second team taste championship success in competition history.
The Perth Wildcats have won more championships than any other club in history, having won 10 titles, the most recent of which came in 2020. Part of their incredible team success included making the playoffs for a record 35 consecutive seasons, with the streak only being broken in the 2021-22 campaign.
The Sydney Kings came close to becoming the first team to ever win four consecutive titles, winning the competition in 2003, 2004 and 2005, but a Melbourne Tigers victory over the Kings in the 2006 grand final robbed them of that feat.
The next team to achieve three consecutive championship wins would be the New Zealand Breakers, who took home the 2011, 2012 and 2013 titles, with the Wildcats winning in 2014. The Breakers would have the last laugh though, winning the competition again in 2015.
Andrew Gaze is held up as the greatest player in the history of the NBL.
The Australian basketball legend won a remarkable seven league MVP’s, as well as 15 All NBL first team selections, 14 scoring titles and two NBL championships.
Gaze is the leading scorer in the history of the competition with 18,908 total points and averaged over 44 points per game in 1987.
Photo: Andrew Gaze.
Six-time Defensive Player of the Year Damian Martin, three-time champion Leroy Loggins, current Wildcat and three-time MVP Bryce Cotton, five-time champion Larry Sengstock and 500-game veterans Ray Borner and James Crawford are also amongst the greatest players to ever grace the league.
Tony Ronaldson holds the record for most games played in the NBL, with 665 over his 21-year career.
Four men are associated with having achieved a record six championship wins as a player and/or coach.
CJ Bruton and David Stiff each played in six championships, while Brian Goorjian has coached six titles. Phil Smyth won three rings as a player and three as a coach.
All-time great players, coaches and administrators are honoured in the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame.
Annual awards presented by the NBL include the prestigious Most Valuable Player awards – named the Andrew Gaze Trophy, Coach of the Year – named the Lindsay Gaze Trophy, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
In addition, All-NBL first and second teams are named. Each lineup is made up of the ten total leading players in the competition for the season.
Photo: The Sydney Kings celebrate their NBL 2021/2022 championship.