By Ollie Nash
As the National Basketball League (NBL) announced their agreement with the Tasmanian Government for a participation license in the league as of the 2021-22 season, the fond memories of a tight knit, college type community are what sticks in the mind of 1988 NBL MVP “Jumping” Joe Hurst.
Hurst, who played for the now defunct Hobart Devils in the 1988, 1989 and 1992 NBL seasons, says he and his teammates were celebrities in the eyes of fans.
“For us in Tassie, we were kind of like rock stars down there because on that island, we were kind of one of the biggest tickets that was going at the time,” he told On The Pine.
“You were well supported by the community and you were well acquainted with (them) because it was close enough and tight enough that that was possible. It probably wasn’t the same for a Melbourne (team).”
This support and passion for basketball in the state was finally rewarded, as the league announced in early July that a team will set up camp at the Derwent Entertainment Centre from the 2021-22 season.
The franchise will become the 10th NBL team and their facilities will receive a $68.5 million Tasmanian Government-backed upgrade. They will be the first NBL team based in the state in 25 years.
Hurst says it is great to see a team back in Tasmania and believes now the league is reaching families all over Australia.
“I am so excited for Tasmania, I just kind of thought that with (them) being out of it, it was obviously still the national league, but … it didn’t feel complete. I think that the NBL now is touching all parts of Australia,” he said.
Hurst, a guy who was well travelled, playing college basketball at Northwest Missouri State University and professionally in Sweden, Iceland, Croatia, Indonesia and Portugal, says it’s a unique experience playing in Tasmania.
“You really do well and truly have the whole state rooting for you, whereas Melbourne has two teams, with Tasmania that’s not the case,” he said.
“Everybody comes around, they get a chance to catch up with you, through all the community development stuff you get to know those people, you walk past them every day in the streets, so it was definitely unique to Tasmania.”
“You go for a meal and all of a sudden they go ‘oh that’s been taken care of’, people were just really looking after you in that way … that’s just the sort of people that they are down there.”
Three teams (the Launceston Casino City Tigers, Devonport Warriors, and Hobart Devils) have tried and failed to make it there during the 1980’s and 90’s. Hurst says learning what did and didn’t work then and making an impact in the community is what will make it a success this time around.
“With three goes at it I would think that you learn what went wrong and what went right … they’ll be getting out to the schools, creating those relationships,” he said.
“I can’t tell you how many kids came to the games just based on the fact that I did a clinic (in their home town). They were coming from all over the island just because of that.”
On the court, Hurst says it’s a matter of recruiting the right people, not always the most talented players that will help Tasmania become a success the league.
South East Melbourne Phoenix took a similar philosophy in their debut 2019-20 season. They had a massive impact on the local community and were very competitive on the court, winning five of their first seven before tapering off near the end of the season.
“The trick will be doing your homework … you don’t want to just grab talent then have a personality that could be a little bit destructive or toxic to the community or the team,” he said.
It’s this culture that has proven so successful with teams like the Phoenix, Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United. They have a strong community impact, getting families through the doors, buying memberships and merchandise helping the clubs become strong financially which can attract stars to make them more competitive.
Perth embody it perfectly. They haven’t missed the finals since 1987, because they attract big name players but also guys that buy in to the club, the city and the fans. Watch any Perth home game and it’s a near sell out every night, because the relationship between the club and its fans is so strong.
The NBL has kickstarted this for the team by launching a four-week campaign asking Tasmanians to nominate their preferred name for the club. A shortlist will be formed before the name that best embodies the spirit of Tasmania and their new colours will be announced later this year.
Cover Photo: NBL