So, tonight I paid a small sum of money to see two pretty lowly professional basketball teams play a pre-season game, mainly because a former NBA player I kinda like was gonna be playing. There I was, watching Josh Childress warm up, go through shoot-around, throw down a couple dunks and generally do things to ready himself for a game of basketball. Nope. Nah. Not really. Out he came in street clothes and plonked his incredible afro having self on the bench. There he stayed for most of the next couple hours. Sigh.
At least I’d still get to see the guy who is probably New Zealand’s best player currently, Tom Abercrombie. He made it as far as NBA summer league and played over in France earlier this year. That’d be enough to keep me satisfied I guess. Knee and groin issues huh? Just manning the t-shirt cannon for the night? Right then.
Well, the Breakers also have a 7 footer who plays the way 7 footers would in the NBA if you never had to leave the key. Alex Pledger gets lots of blocks and dunks, just how I like it. He didn’t even bother making it to the bloody arena.
This would’ve been OK if I was expecting any of it, but with this quote from the Kings’ website yesterday, “The good news for the Kings is that all players, including Childress and Brandt, are expected to suit up for the games in New Zealand” and this from the Breakers’ earlier in the week, “Come and see the return of Cedric Jackson plus new signing Ekene Ibekwe and returning players Mika Vukona, Tom Abercrombie, Corey Webster, Alex Pledger…take on the Kings.” I felt pretty ripped off. Thank fuck both ex-Blazers, Cedric Jackson and Ekene Ibekwe, suited up otherwise I might’ve just asked for a refund there and then.
Despite all that, the game was entertaining and the elite talents left on the floor stood out just how you’d expect them too. The biggest lead held by either team was 7 points and both teams shot it well and competed hard. I left more impressed by what the NBL has to offer than I expected to be. The good guys lost 96-91 but look like a team capable of getting back to the heights they reached during their threepeat of ’11/’12/’13. The Kings featured a pack of knobend Aussies who couldn’t miss from deep, wearing uniforms that were distastefully similar to those of a certain team from Los Angeles.
Former summer league hero Ekene Ibekwe was the most impressive athlete on display by some distance. He opened the game by swatting the shit out of a wannabe Al Jefferson who threw about 15 fakes before receiving his humiliation. He made some spectacular open court plays, had a couple of beautiful one touch passes for assists from the post and could not hit a jump shot for love or money. Most entertaining guy to watch though and got the seal of approval from my 10 year old as soon as he made his first self-oop dunk in the layup line. Should kill NBL level comp.
Cedric Jackson is probably the greatest Breaker of all time and I got a decent idea of why tonight. He didn’t shoot it well from outside and maybe hit half his free throws if he was lucky, but for a guy who has sniffed the NBA and been MVP of this league before, his mindset for a pre-season game was fascinating. He threw himself at it on D, got a tech, fed the hot hand incessantly and generally played like the game mattered. When he made the move of the night , crossing his man at the three point line and throwing himself into the teeth of the defense for an and 1 layup, with the Breakers in desperate need down 4 with time dwindling, I was sold. I still think he’d be a solid NBA backup….something like a poor man’s Rondo.
The only other guys worth talking about from this game were Corey Webster and Mika Vukona. Webster’s one of those ‘any shot is a good shot if I’m taking it’ types and it was interesting watching a guy with that attitude operate. He had the Breakers first 10 points on 4 shots and looked like he was headed for 50. Ended up taking 18 shots in about 25 minutes of game time, scoring 21 and being the designated three point hucker when the game was getting out of reach. He really was the Kiwi Kobe tonight, frustrating at times but always bloody entertaining. Likely the Breakers top scorer this season. Vukona is a NZ basketball legend and watching him play live was a revelation. He’s got all the energy and commitment of a guy like Faried, just without the physical tools. Pure hustle player who probably could’ve made it overseas if he wasn’t a 6’5 PF with no jumper. On the Kings’ side, Kendrick Perry was the standout guy. A point out of Youngstown State, he had kind of a Patrick Beverley vibe and was a big part of CJax having an off night scoring wise. Put in 15 points of his own before hitting 4 FTs late to ice the game. Josh Childress played a solid bench game – brown slacks with an olive long-sleeve top complimenting his ‘fro, plenty of high fives doled out and a courteous interview with local media post-game. There were also a couple of douchey looking, blonde Aussie big guys on the Sydney side that forgot how to miss tonight and racked up 43 points between them. Related – Meyers would be perfect for the NBL. Plenty of beaches, nice weather, a population that would love his wife beater wardrobe and he’d put up 25/10 easy as a 7 footer who can jump and shoot.
So, NBL pre-season action. Bitter disappointment mixed with surprisingly spectacular basketball. 8/10, would thoroughly recommend.