The Canberra Cannons in their prime were a sight to behold: capacity crowds, premierships and an entertainment experience that provided a template for other sports codes to follow.
At the peak of the Cannon’s popularity, it was standing room only at the Palace, now re-badged the AIS Arena. There was even a cannon that blasted mini basketballs and merchandise into the crowd.
The games were televised live on commercial television, and the players were as well known as Meninga, Daley, Stuart, Gregan, Larkham and Jackson in Canberra.
Phil Smyth, known as ‘the General’, Herb McEachin, Dave Nelson and Willie Simmons are some of the names that come readily to mind from that golden era.
It’s also worth noting it was an era with only the Raiders, the Capitals and the Canberra City Arrows as competition for the hearts and minds of the Canberra community during the 1980s.
The demise of the Cannons in 2003 and the subsequent transfer of the licence to Newcastle, then Singapore, left many in Canberra’s basketball community with little appetite for another tilt at being the base for an NBL licence mark II.
There have been various proposals to reinvigorate Canberra’s NBL prospects over the years, with the Illawarra Hawks backed by support from the ACT Government playing sporadic yet well-supported games at the AIS Arena.
Now NBL owner and executive chairman Larry Kestelman has resurrected the possibility of Canberra again being home to an NBL licence within the next two years.
The desire to expand the league to 11 teams comes in the wake of the success of the Tasmanian Jack Jumpers this year in their debut season.
The Jack Jumpers play out of the refurbished Derwent Entertainment Centre, redeveloped at a cost of $68 million with capacity for 5000 fans.
The proposal for a Canberra licence has a number of caveats, including bringing the AIS Arena up to NBL standard and support from the ACT Government. Thanks to the federal election, it would appear as though there is optimism that the AIS Arena will be brought back to life.
But there are differences between the Jack Jumpers’ model and the one proposed for Canberra. Most notably is the crowded sporting landscape in Canberra when compared to Tasmania.
The ACT Government is already assisting the Raiders, Brumbies, UC Capitals, Canberra United, GWS, and the list goes on with a push for an A-League and Big Bash team in the wings.
Another issue is whether government money should be spent on more national league teams when community sports facilities are in such a parlous state.
A positive of the latest NBL proposal is that it comes when the league appears to be on an upward trajectory with a professional business approach linked to community passion for the sport.
A Canberra team would also provide a pathway for young local players aspiring to play at the next level without having to ply their trade elsewhere.
As to a potential name for an NBL team in Canberra, should it come to fruition? That’s a no-brainer that needs little explanation.