Back in the Day: July 1997

Back in the Day: July 1997

This week, the BA time machine stops off in July 1997...

 Winter Season Week Nineteen: Sneak a peek at all the Stars...

-Former W.A. Premier Brian Burke walks from court in Perth a free man after the Court of Criminal Appeal quashes guilty verdicts on seven charges of stealing funds from the ALP. Burke claims to reporters that ‘I am a victim of the 80’s’ and goes home to celebrate with family and friends.

-The recently elected Labour government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair unveils several new policies in the area of constitutional reform. Firstly, plans are unveiled for a sixty member Welsh Assembly, which will have limited powers and still need to refer major questions to Parliament at Westminster. Prime Minister Blair then invites the Liberal Democrats to talks on the subject of constitutional reform, including the possible introduction of proportional representation for the House of Commons.

-There is one reform that remains unfinished: the status of Northern Ireland. The peace process in that land of terrible beauty takes a major step forward with the IRA announcing a resumption of its ceasefire that had collapsed the previous year. It is now believed that Sinn Fein will be invited to multi-party talks, due to begin in September. In response, the Democratic Unionists, led by the Reverend Ian Paisley, walk out of the talks, describing them as ‘dead in the water.’

-K.R. Narayanan is sworn in as India’s tenth president, he is the first from the Dalit (or ‘untouchable’) caste to hold the post.

-After several days of horse-trading, Bill Skate becomes the first Papuan-born Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. The parliamentary vote had been expected to be close with a two-way tussle between Skate and PNG political titan, Sir Michael Somare. In the end, the vote is not close as many Independent MP’s swing their support towards Skate’s candidacy.

-The Italian city of Milan comes to a standstill for a memorial service in honour of fashion designer Gianni Versace. Friends, family and fellow designers come from all parts of the globe to pay their own tributes to a man that excited the passions of fashion-lovers everywhere with his flair and sense of daring. Meanwhile in Florida the man believed to have murdered Versace, Andrew Cunanan, is found dead on a houseboat of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

-The fourth cricket test between Australia and England at Headingley in Leeds begins in controversy after a last-minute decision to change the pitch from a dryer track to one with a greater covering of grass. Despite this, Jason Gillespie takes a career best 7-37 in the first innings and Australia win the match by an innings and 61 runs, taking a 2-1 lead in the six match series.

-An all star list of deaths this week: British broadcaster Vincent Hanna, actor and professional wrestler Brian Glover, renowned American golfer Ben Hogan. The most notable death was that of former US Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. In his 34 years on the Court Brennan had acted as the leader of the liberal wing of the Court, defending and expanding civil rights, protecting the right to free speech and arguing adamantly against the death penalty. Justice Antonin Scalia, a future conservative justice on the Court, would describe Brennan as ‘probably the most influential Justice of the century.’

-On the music charts, ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ and ‘MMMBop’ kept all the hipsters warm.

With a shortened round of WNBL games, and the NBL on an All-Star/World Championship hiatus, the Australian basketball community attention was focused on the build-up to OZ 97 (or to give it its correct title FIBA World Championship for Men ’22 and Under’). The tournament was due to be staged in Melbourne and Australia was ranked as one of the favourites to claim the gold medal. Known as the ‘Crocs’, the squad featured seven survivors from the Emus team that had come so agonisingly close to a gold medal in Greece two years earlier. Captained by Sam MacKinnon and coached by Ian Stacker, the team’s final two warm-up matches would be against strong opposition in the United States and Lithuania, who were European champions in the ’22 and Under’ category. The United States game is sketched out below, but on the 26th July at ‘The Palace’ in Canberra Lithuania defeated the Crocs 74-72.

Not all NBL teams had the week off though. A third string South East Melbourne team thrashed a touring ‘Greek All-Stars’ side 125-88 at Rod Laver Arena. The match was marred by the release of two flares in the stands during the third quarter, forcing the game to be halted so that the smoke could be cleared. There was further violent activity outside the Arena, which saw a policeman injured, two people arrested and charged with various offences, and the introduction of bag searches at all of the OZ97 matches. But enough of the off-court madness, let’s see what’s happening on the floor...

NBL: All-Star Weekend, WNBL Round 15.

Friday 25th July 1997: Two WNBL Games, One NBL Game

WNBL Game One: Perth Breakers @Brisbane Blazers.

Final score: Blazers 69-Breakers 61

The Breakers were weakened before the start of the game by the loss of Marianna Vlahov with serious stomach cramps that forced her to stay in Perth. In the end, it was the ‘3 Jennies’ (Whittle and Gardiner with 18 points, Evans with 14 points) that kept Brisbane’s hopes of an Elimination Final place alive.

WNBL Game Two: A.I.S. @Canberra Capitals

Final score: A.I.S. 83-Capitals 68

An A.I.S. team slowly developing into the finest squad the Institute may ever have produced (it included Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor, Kristen Veal, Rohanee Cox and Suzy Batkovic, just to name five) keep their faint hopes of a playoff spot alive with a comfortable win over the lowly Capitals. Jackson picks up 26 points for the Students, on her way to picking up the Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Trophy.

Future Forces Game: United States of America @Australia (The ‘Crocs’).

Final score: USA 92-Australia 88

The opening course for All-Star Weekend, held for the first time in Sydney, was this warm-up match for OZ97 between two teams that were expected to meet in the gold medal match.  For the first thirty-five minutes of the match, the Crocs had it in the bag. Their opponents then unleashed a 17-4 run to steal the game in front of a disappointed home crowd. Mike Jones led the charge for the U.S., eventually finishing with 19 points. He was the equal top-scorer with Australia’s Simon Dwight who also grabbed 19 points. The Crocs’ free-throw shooting was abysmal: 68% for the night and they missed their last six in a row. There were also a number of skirmishes during the game, which saw U.S. coach Rick Majerus spend more time on the floor than some of his players (he was eventually called for a technical foul.)

Saturday 26th July 1997: One NBL Game, One WNBL Game

NBL Game: All Star Game; North vs. South

Final score: North 151-South 142

The North line-up read like this: Derek Rucker (Townsville), Tonny Jensen (Newcastle), Robert Rose (Canberra), Bruce Bolden (Sydney), Clarence Tyson (Townsville), Isaac Burton (Sydney), Leroy Loggins (Brisbane), Dwayne McClain (Brisbane), Matt Zauner (Illawarra), Glen Saville (Illawarra) and coached by Alan Black (Sydney).

The South line-up read like this: Ricky Grace (Perth), Andrew Gaze (Melbourne), Andrew Vlahov (Perth), Tony Ronaldson (South East Melbourne), James Crawford (Perth), Brett Maher (Adelaide), Darryl McDonald (North Melbourne), Leon Trimmingham (Adelaide), Mark Bradtke (Melbourne), David Stiff (North Melbourne) and coached by Brett Brown (North Melbourne).

The game itself ran in the tradition of what All-Star games usually are: high-scoring, no defence flash and style affairs.  With scores level at 74-74 at half-time, the North side unleashed a barrage of three-pointers in the third and led by many as sixteen. Eventually South worked their way back into the game and in the last quarter the intensity was raised as both teams took the game a little more seriously. Eventually the North ran out winners, with Derek Rucker receiving the MVP trophy for his 28 points, which included 5 three-pointers. Isaac Burton could have felt a little disappointed, as he racked up 26 points in 24 minutes of work. The South’s leading scorer was James Crawford with 21 points.

Burton had the last laugh by winning the slam-dunk contest. In the three-point shootout, Leroy Loggins hit his last eleven shots in a row to win by a point over Andrew Vlahov.

WNBL Game Three: Adelaide Lightning @Bulleen Melbourne Boomers

Final score: Lightning 78-Boomers 55

Adelaide’s inside muscle (Rachael Sporn and Carla Porter each with 22 points) made short work of the cellar-bound Boomers.

Sunday 27th July 1997: One WNBL Game

WNBL Game Four: Adelaide Lightning @Dandenong Rangers

Final score: Lightning 74-Rangers 56.

Rachael Sporn with 23 points was again dominant for Adelaide as they locked in second place on the WNBL ladder. Jo Hill provided support from outside, pouring in 22 points. The Lightning now prepared themselves for a titanic clash with their arch-rival the Sydney Flames, who had yet to lose a game all season long.

WNBL Ladder

Top Five:                                             Bottom Four:

Sydney         17 and 0                           A.I.S                                5 and 10

Adelaide        13 and 3                           Perth                               5 and 12

Melbourne      11 and 6                           Canberra                          5 and 12

Dandenong    8 and 8                            Bulleen Melbourne              4 and 13

Brisbane        6 and 10

NBL Ladder (At end of Rd. 15, prior to All-Star Break)

Top Six:                                                       Bottom Five:

South East Melbourne          15 and 4               Canberra                          10 and 11

Perth                               12 and 8                 Adelaide                            9 and 10

Brisbane                            11 and 8                Melbourne                        8 and 11

North Melbourne                12 and 9                 Newcastle                         8 and 12

Townsville                         10 and 8                Illawarra                          3 and 16

Sydney                             10 and 11       

Next week in ‘Back in the Day’ take a walk with us down Peachtree Panorama, as we bring back memories of ‘The Croatia Game’, ‘The Russia Game’ and most importantly of all, ‘The Ukraine Game.’ Re-live the days when the Boomers and Opals showed that they had, to paraphrase the great Dennis, the hearts of lions in the heart of Dixie. The 1996 Olympic basketball tournament: next week in ‘Back in the Day.’                                    

This is another in a regular series of articles that will take note of the historic events of the modern era of Australian basketball (1979-today). If you have memories to share, or topics that should be discussed, send an email to and put in the subject line ‘Back in the Day.’