Back in the day: Hall of fame

Back in the day: Hall of fame

As the BA time machine is put in for a service, it is time for our third special report of the year...On Wednesday the 18 August, 2010, over three hundred members of the Australian basketball community spent a night out of the cold Melbourne winds to commemorate the past, celebrate the present and raise hopes for the future. The Grand Ballroom at the Sofitel on Collins was alive with colour, good talk and happy memories. For those not fortunate enough to be able to attend, here now are some of the highlights of the evening.

Special Report Three: The Australian Basketball Hall of Fame and World Championship Dinner.

The night opened with a speech by BA’s Deputy President Bruce Spangler who pointedly praised the “spirit of unity” within the basketball community since the beginning of the much-ballyhooed reform process. The World and Paralympic champion Rollers team was then presented to the crowd and received a fine ovation. Only weeks after being named to the World Championship All-Star Five, Justin Eveson was awarded his Sandy Blythe Medals for 2009 and 2010 by Sandy’s father, Mr Alan Blythe. The 2009 and 2010 Gliders Player of the Year medals were also handed out (to Katie Hill and Kylie Gauci respectively).

Something that struck this writer during the night was the question of the Gliders POY medal: surely there is someone that it can be named after? Write in your suggestions and we may take action for the next ceremony in 2012.
It was then time to induct the first two members of the Class of 2010:

1.    Michael AhMatt: Inducted as a Player.

Michael, who passed away in 1984 at the young age of 40, was represented by his widow Helen and three of their children. There were also several other members of Michael’s family as well as a group of close friends in attendance.
Helen said that Michael was “a player before his time”, an early version of Magic Johnson if you will. He didn’t see himself as a pioneer for his people, simply as someone “who loved the sport”. Like many champions, AhMatt was a player who enjoyed the big occasion: in Helen’s words: “The bigger the crowd, the better he played”. He particularly enjoyed playing against touring teams from the USA, seeing these fixtures as opportunities to show “just how he could play.”
A poem titled ‘My Man’, written by Australian Football Hall of Fame Legend Barrie Robran was then recited and didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

2. Sandy Blythe: Inducted as a Player

Sandy, who passed away in 2005, was represented by his father Alan and his mother Rosemary.

Alan spoke on their behalf and told a couple of humorous anecdotes. One concerned the occasion when, before a match against Japan, Sandy put in his old football mouthguard, rose to full height in his chair and cried out “Remember Pearl Harbour!”

Alan also spoke about what Sandy would have regarded as the finest moment of his career: defeating the United States in the semi-final at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. In Sandy’s words “It was the best feeling to see Americans cry on their home court!”

After entree, the assembled guests were given a preview screening of the Ten Network’s new advertising campaign for the NBL on One. The consensus of opinion on the 30 second ad was one of approval (I personally think the fans will like it too.) The second group of the Class of 2010 was then inducted:

3. Sandy Brondello: Inducted as a Player.

As “Brags” was away coaching the WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars into the Western Conference Play-offs, Hall of Famer Rachael Sporn and fellow Opal Allison Tranquilli accepted the award on her behalf. Tranquilli spoke of Brondello as “one of the best...jump shooters” that she had played with. Both Tranquilli and Sporn remarked on how Sandy’s “work ethic...set her apart” from many of her peers and allowed her to have an extended career. It was mentioned that she never missed a training session, even if it was optional.

As is customary with these occasions, there were some embarrassing photographs involving truly god-awful hairstyles. Brondello was particularly egregious in this regard, displaying her close relationship with a perm. Sporn said in Brondello’s defence that “we all had perms in the 80s.” I would only add that it was either that or luxuriant mullets! Her abilities as a teacher were also remarked upon, something that the Logan Thunder will be beneficiaries of in the upcoming WNBL season.

4. David Carmichael: Inducted as a Contributor
David Carmichael was the first inductee to be actually present at the function and expressed his humility in being honoured in this way. He shared his positive outlook upon the future of the sport in Australia, saying that “I believe in free-to-air and I believe that the basketball family will eventually succeed.”

When asked by this writer whether he would rather have Townsville’s name on the Raschke Trophy or the plaque in his hand, he said “I’ll take the plaque, thanks!”

He also gave a potted history of the birth of the Crocs, noting the important role played by Mark Bragg in bringing the investors together to get the team off the ground.

5. Merv Emms: Inducted as a Coach
Merv Emms, who passed away in 2000, was represented by his widow Minnie and their son John. It was also Minnie’s birthday and she was presented with a large chocolate cake and a round of “Happy Birthday to You”.

Minnie spoke of his “love of the game...particularly in the Pacific Islands”. He spent a great deal of his time travelling through the Oceania region, teaching and nurturing the game to the sport’s minnows and working to turn them into powerhouses. On one particular occasion, Merv did take Minnie to Vanuatu as a birthday, an experience she truly enjoyed.

ohn Ennis spoke of “how gratified...that Dad’s work has been honoured”. He reckoned that Merv’s greatest joy in the game came out of his coaching NSW junior teams to regular success in National Championships through the 50s and 60s. When asked about his own basketball prowess, John shyly demurred, saying that he always found it difficult to “keep up his father’s reputation”. Minnie then mentioned that Merv’s first contact with the game was while he was training with the RAAF in Canada during the Second World War.

6. Trish Fallon: Inducted as a Player
Fallon spoke of how she found the honour “quite overwhelming”. Trish also said that she had been “blown away” when she had received the call informing her of her good fortune. When asked to name her greatest moments in her career, Fallon said that “the Olympics were always special because I spanned the dynasties” of the Maher-Timms and Jackson-Taylor era. She paid tribute to her colleagues, saying that she “owed a lot to the players around her.” Fallon also spoke of how her attendance at the 1986 WNBL Final Four in Geelong (her home town) inspired her to make a career of basketball. In conclusion, Trish gave thanks to her family who made up many of the members of her table.

7. Shelley Gorman: Inducted as a Player
Shelley’s cue onto stage brought much raucous applause from ‘The Gorman Mosh Pit’, known officially as Table 22. She spoke of her “shock” at receiving the phone call, believing that there were plenty of possible inductees ahead of her in the queue. Overall, Gorman spoke of how “amazing” it was that she should be here at this moment and thanked everybody involved for making it possible. All the old Spectres players led the room to a grand ovation as Shelley departed the stage.

The main course was then served up before the third and final group of inductees was honoured...

8. Ricky Grace: Inducted as a Player

When asked for his greatest moments as a player in Australia, Ricky selected two: the first NBL title in 1990 and his selection to the 2000 Boomers team and playing in the Olympics for his adopted country. One of his abiding memories of that period was being in the room with Andrew Gaze when he received the news that he would be carrying the Australian flag at the Opening Ceremony. Grace joked that “we poured lemonade on him, as we know that’s all that he drinks!”

He acknowledged the impact that players such as Leroy Loggins, Darryl McDonald and Al Green had had on his career in this country. Ricky told a wonderful story of his first game against Green when Al was playing for Adelaide. Green made one particular move that involved one forearm to the throat and another to the stomach: Al then whispered in Ricky’s ear: “There’s more where that came from”.

Ricky concluded by thanking his teammates, including James Crawford and Mike Ellis, whom he hoped would join him in the Hall sooner rather than later.

9. Elaine Hardwick: Inducted as a Contributor
A total of four tables were made up of people who had come to honour this pioneer of the women’s game in Australia. Maree Jackson acted as her presenter and Elaine received an impressive ovation. Unfortunately, she had been struck by a bout of flu two days prior and was not able to enjoy the occasion as much as she would have liked.

Elaine noted her feeling that “the people in the 50’s were doing something right.” There was also a belief among the basketball community at that time that “At the beginning it is up to you to follow through.” Speaking on her career as a coach with the CYMS Telstars in Melbourne, Elaine spoke of the depth of those teams and said “(with those teams) you couldn’t lose and we didn’t.” It was also mentioned that she was not the first member of her family to enter a Hall of Fame: her father is a member of both the Australian Boxing and Sport Australia Halls of Fame.

10. Greg Love: Inducted as a Technical Official

As befitting an official with over fifty years of experience in the game, Greg was quite modest about his achievements. When asked for his proudest moment, he found it difficult to choose just one: eventually he narrowed it down to controlling the 1983 National Women’s Club Championship final between the A.I.S. and North Adelaide. Greg did note, however, that that final was only one of several that he controlled!

He also mentioned that he was happy to be in the same class as friends like Michael AhMatt and Sandy Blythe and pleased to have the opportunity to catch up with life-long friends like Kevin Coombs.

11. Karin McRobert: Inducted as a Player

The same crew that cheered their heads off for Elaine Hardwick now stood and applauded for Karin McRobert: even some of the old Spectres joined in, which proves that nights like this actually do work! She talked about how her generation of players were pioneers for the sport internationally, including being among the first sportspeople to visit the People’s Republic of China after the re-introduction of diplomatic ties in the 1970’s. There were further war stories: including tales about travelling around South America in decrepit mini-vans with motors that barely raised a whisper. Or the time when in 1979 during the World Championships in Brazil they were left stranded in Rio after showing up for their flight to find that the flight was overbooked and they had been bumped! As Karin herself said “It’s all business class now”.

She noted how she had always had great teammates: they had to be; otherwise they copped the infamous McRobert ‘death stare’. Karin also mentioned that she still played twice a week and was a proud member of the mighty Victorian Butterflies team that has regularly competed at the Australian Masters Games for many years. Most importantly, she thanked her friends and family for their love and support.

12. Julie Nykiel: Inducted as a Player
Before the dinner, this writer was warned by several people that “Julie Nykiel loves a chat.” On the night, Julie did not disappoint!

She noted that she felt privileged to play with and against so many champions. When asked for her most memorable moment, she chose two: the 1985 WNBL Grand Final when her Noarlunga Tigers led by twenty at the half and lost by a point (incidentally against Karin McRobert’s Coburg Cougars) and a game in the 1970’s when the Tigers beat CYMS at a National Championship. After the game McRobert came up to Nykiel and said “Hey, No. 10, good game”. The praise made her day and made an inestimable contribution to her future career.

She congratulated the other members of the Class of 2010 and was unstinting in her praise for BA’s own Lorraine Landon, describing her as “the woman who made women’s basketball work” in Australia.

13. Michael Wrublewski: Inducted as a Contributor
Michael, who passed away in August of last year, was represented by his widow Shauna and his sons Adam and David.

Shauna pointed out that one of Mike’s major goals was “to include families”. Adam described some of the lengths that his father would go to in order to garner media attention: he would ring radio stations to give them the score, which they wouldn’t run. Then Mike got his sons to constantly ring the radio stations in order to get the scores on air!

Adam went on to say that “no-one would be prouder that the Kings are back”. He spoke of how “extremely humbled” his father would be to be in the Hall and that his greatest attribute was how he “forced people to have an opinion”.

14. Bill Wyatt: Inducted as a Player

Bill didn’t have a lot to say: he seemed to this writer at least to be a modest and retiring character. He did however note the influence on his career of Ken Watson, who one Christmas not only brought back the University of Auburn’s shuffle offense but also their insignia: The Tigers. Like many of the Inductees, he paid tribute to the love and support of his family.

After Carrie Graf got dragged away from the Spectres mini-reunion to speak about the Opals chances of defending their World Championship (“Is it possible? Absolutely.”), the most exciting part of the evening: the presentation of the ABHOF’s third “Legend”.

15. Legend: Lindsay Gaze.

Former BA President (and retired senior public servant) Ron Harvey acted as the presenter of Lindsay’s award. Lindsay was given a thunderous (and deserved) standing ovation that lasted for almost two minutes. Much of what Lindsay said on the night has already been reported: one wants only to note his reluctance in accepting the honour. Lindsay described it as “a conflict of emotions and philosophy.”
As to the question of his impact on the sport in Australia, he was only willing to say he was “privileged to be a part of it.” He also gave thanks to his beloved wife Margaret (“I still don’t know why we’re still married”), all the people who worked for him at Basketball Victoria and the fans for all of their support.
The party went on well past midnight, with tall and true tales being swapped and an aura of good feeling surrounding the multitudes. Bring on the Class of 2012!

Next week in Back in the Day, a return to normal programming: women from around the world come together to speak with many voices and an end finally comes to one of the saddest stories in the history of television. September 1995: 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.’