The Rise of the NBL

The Rise of the NBL

New Zealand’s National Basketball League, or NBL, is the most excellent semi-professional men’s basketball league in that country.

7 teams went on to compete in the season for 2017, with these based in Christchurch, Napier, New Plymouth, Auckland, Invercargill, Nelson and Wellington.

The Quality of the Teams is Improving

Despite a host of financial trouble forcing many of the nation’s teams over the last 10 years to go under, the quality of the players and their game is improving, as is evidenced by the amount of NZ players going on to play for Australia’s National Basketball League, the ANBL, as well as those heading off to play college basketball in the USA.

Some players have even gone so far as to make the NBA, America’s top league, including Steven Addams and Kirk Penney. What makes this even more impressive is that the NBA has a limit of 2 imports per team, and most of these herald from the USA itself, and the league will only let 1 naturalised NZ player become a member of an American team.

The Early Days of the NBL

Auckland, Canterbury dominated the league in the initial stages of the competitions, but by the middle 1990s, Nelson had joined the fray as 1 of the teams to beat, featuring legendary players like Pero Cameron and Phill Jones.

Throughout the 1970s, New Zealand organised its games between neighbouring representative teams or in tournaments that took place once a year, which were organised as provincial nation competitions or club contests.

The Countrywide Basketball League was started in 1982 as a response to a growing need for quality, consistent competition on a semi-professional level, in order to match the improvements and growing structure Australia was showing. Tall Blacks like Dave Edmonds, Byron Vaetoe, Tony Smith, Stan Hill, Glen Denham and Peter Pokai were vital cogs during the competition’s early years, but the Americans dominated the league during the 80s.

The Stars Start Spreading Out

Big-city teams like those of Wellington, Auckland and Canterbury were dominant in the early period, but the Hutt Valley Lakers’ wins in 1991 and 1993 saw the star players beginning to spread themselves out. The Nelson Giants went on to win their 1st championship in 1994, and Auckland became the 1st team to manage to win 3 titles consecutively in 1995, 1996 and 1997. After the Waitakere Rangers, the Northland Suns and the Hutt Valley Lakers left in the late 90s, and this saw the league take a big hit in terms of the level of competition.

The One-Import Rule is Introduced

The middle 1990s saw a huge shift in the level of skill of basketball players from New Zealand, with big names like Pero Cameron and Phill Jones starting to take centre-stage. The teams started depending on New Zealanders more than ever, and, by the early 2000s, a rule was implemented that allowed for only one import per team, in an attempt to control the domination by the USA on the league.

The New Zealand Breakers were formed in 2003, and this provided Kiwi players with an incentive to continue to play in the NZNBL, with the goal of being awarded a contract with the ANBL. This has resulted in players like Cameron and Jones, along with Dillon Boucher, Mika Vukona, Paul Henare, Lindsay Tait and Pāora Winitana becoming household names worldwide, and helping the NBL go from strength to strength.