Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2018 Aussie Basketball Tour: Notes from Adelaide and Wollongong

Game Day in Adelaide and Wollongong
Each week I'll be heading off to a different NBL city until the season wraps up in mid-February. I'd only ever watched NBL games at arenas in Sydney and Melbourne so I'm looking forward to experiencing the basketball community in other markets. My first two stops in Adelaide and Wollongong, both storied franchises didn't disappoint.

Support from the neighbours:
BadBoy Burger Bar in Adelaide and Illawarra Brewery in Wollongong
I shared the bus ride to Titanium Security Arena with a senior 36ers supporter decked in some classic gear. I got off one stop earlier to grab a milkshake at the BadBoy Burger Bar. I customarily check out nearby haunts to soak in the game day lead up with fans and perhaps find some memorabilia. The arena is in an industrial neighborhood and was a lonely walk via Public transport. Once you turn the corner you're greeted to a sprawling parking lot and a field teeming with festival atmosphere. Kids shooting around as fans trickle in.
Winning time!
In Wollongong the arena is by the beach with a parade of bars and restaurants filled with Hawkheads getting their fill before the game. The Illawarra Brewery attached to WIN Stadium is where I pre-gamed. I'm always impressed by the amount of local team gear people rock, all the different eras and players being repped. It's a good primer on who the fan favorites are, who to look out for on the court. At the Sixers game, the standout was Majok Deng who piled on 16 fourth quarter points. Igniting the crowd with each clutch three. The Illawarra Hawks fighting for a postseason berth sent back the visiting Breakers. None more impressive than AJ Ogilvy who had the house shaking with his blocks.

The stars interacting with fans after the game
I've been quite the lucky charm on my tours, boosting slumping and underdog home teams to unexpected victories. On my NBA visits I'm 12-1. For this NBL jaunt I've watched consecutive 11-point wins by home teams battling finals contenders. Adelaide over the Wildcats and Illawarra beating the Breakers. Competitive games and team success certainly enhances the game day experience. Both Adelaide and Illawarra showed great initiative in giving supporters intimate access to it's players post-match. A team lap of honor signing jerseys and high-fiving awaiting fans soon after the final buzzer.

Jersey finds in Adelaide and Wollongong
As expected there's also plenty of assorted NBA gear to be found. At the Illawarra game I spotted 2 'Nique' throwbacks and even a Pittsburgh Steelers tee. Gotta respect the mascot kinship. Whilst the NBA remains the standard-bearer it's heartening to see a local appreciation for the game being cultivated. One of the things I noticed traveling North America was the prevalence of locals repping their region's Sports teams. A strong sense of hometown pride which forms a big part of their identity. It's not something we really do here in Australia.

Street art finds
Game day ultimately accounts for a small part in my experience of a place. Traveling with friends on my first NBA tour, we sometimes spent our lone night somewhere watching a game. I knew moving forward I'd aim for more time in each place to explore and a get a holistic impression of the city. Besides catching the game live. I scavenger hunt for jerseys, hoops and street art. I'll hit up a nice eatery and try the local beer, usually where I can watch sports. I'll seek out the local comedy, pro-wrestling or board game scene when I can. Being on the road is exhausting so indulging in my pet hobbies helps. I like to play it by ear, though I do keep an eye on events and festivals in upcoming cities. Ultimately the memories that endure are the connections I make with people and the moments of serendipity. Basketball's a nice pretext to get me there.

The 2018 Australia Tour (NBL and FIBA)
Round 13, Jan 4: ADL def. PER 97 - 86
Round 14, Jan 13: ILL def. NZB (90 - 79)
Cairns and Brisbane are my next stops. It'll be the only leg on my tour where I won't be returning home to Sydney in between Rounds. I hear they like to party, not to mention Australia Day long weekend is worked in there too. Let's see if I can bring some luck to the Queensland teams. Looking forward to meeting the Orange Army and Brisbane fans up north.

- Follow my daily snapshots on the @30HomeGames Instagram and hashtag #30HGoztour
- Check my game day posts in Adelaide and Wollongong

Monday, January 8, 2018

Team Chemistry: Pete Holmes and Bill Simmons on the bonds you make through pick-up basketball.

Pete Holmes and friends
Pete Homes' You Made it Weird' is my favorite podcast. I've quoted it extensively for my travels as his outlook echoes many of the observations and epiphanies I've found in my own life. Whilst Pete and Bill share a history growing up in Boston, Pete is unabashedly not a sports aficionado.

AUDIO: Pete Holmes on Conspiracies, Humor, and ‘Crashing’
PETE HOLMES: (18m 28s) This is a joke I've told before but when we used to play pick-up basketball, I didn't count points. I counted friends I'd made. Which is true. Like when guys fight and stuff, I'm like "Fellas. It's f*cking pretend."
BILL SIMMONS: Right.
HOLMES: It's 11 to 6 like who f*cking cares. We just made that up. That's two, that one's worth three. It's all baloney and people getting along mattered more to me than that.
SIMMONS: That's my favorite part of basketball.
HOLMES: Is what?
SIMMONS: Is the relationships. Is the going and playing, staying on the court for three hours. Making like weird friends you'd never make normally. Never seeing those people again after the game.
This exchange resonates with me. For my European and South American trips spanning 2 years, I sought out basketball experiences and pick-up games with locals in each Country visited. Sometimes these came via Couchsurfing, more often than not connections were created organically.

December 25, 2013. Bogotá, Colombia.
A conversation struck up over a basketball tee might lead to a pickup game the next day. I reconnected with the driver who picked me up while hitching and watched a game at his nightclub days later. During a lonely holiday period in Colombia, my Christmas day spent hooping with locals punctuated my trip with indelible memories.

A post shared by Loz In Transit (@30homegames) on

It's moments like these that have me pursuing my hoop dreams of travel even as that shot clock winds down. I recently embarked on my Australia tour to tip-off 2018, having just completed my first jaunt in Adelaide. There I met a German backpacker, his "Frankfurt Basketball" tee immediately catching my attention. He remarked over beers, "I want a life I'm happy with on the inside rather than living one other people enjoy from the outside".
Echoing Pete Holmes' sentiment, sometimes we find joy in the little things. From parts of the game where you might not expect it.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Visiting the 8 NBL cities: An 8 Home Games tour of Australia for the NBL and FIBA Basketball

Like plenty of Australians I enjoy a bit of backpacking, I'm on a mission to travel the 30 NBA cities of North America. I began this project in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania after a memorable month around the country watching games for EuroBasket 2011. I had great experiences and made good friends through a shared love of basketball. Fortunately for me, it coincided with the NBA lockout so I got to witness plenty of International stars representing their Countries. It was here that I began my fascination with global hoops. Since then I've incorporated basketball in all my travels. I'm drawn to exploration in general, I've found basketball a good pretext to bring me places I might've never considered or overlooked.

I've had the fortune to watch leagues and tournaments around the globe. I've Couchsurfed in Kristaps Porziņģis' hometown and watched their local team play. I got to see Ricky Rubio whilst he honed his game in Barcelona. I've was lucky to witness teenagers Enes Kanter (Turkey) and Karl-Anthony Towns (Dominican Republic) play for their respective Countries.

I've watched club games with as little as 250 people in the stands. At arenas big and small in metropolises and quiet villages. The standard of play varies but the impressions that remain are the quality of presentation and the community support behind the game. Football tends to enjoy the most ardent and tribal fan support, it sometimes translates to other sports but usually only a fraction. I found this the case watching racuous League games in Turkey and Spain. Generally speaking basketball fans are are smaller in size but just as loyal.

The 2018 Australian tour (NBL and FIBA)
I'm a third of the way through visiting the NBA cities having watched my first game January 2015. I'd always hoped to do the same for Australia by watching the NBL. I initially laid out plans in 2012 but will finally embark on it to tip-off 2018 as the regular season winds down.

The rejuvenated NBL has been a revelation. I visited Melbourne to watch phenom Ben Simmons play in a sold out crowd of 10,000 as his college team LSU toured Down Under. I also ticked off a few NBA cities, watching the NBL's historic partnership with the NBA during this current preseason. 3 exhibition games with Utah, OKC and Phoenix against the NBL's Sydney Kings, Melbourne United and Brisbane Bullets respectively. Whilst the league has gone through its ups and downs, the core love for the game and club pride still endures. I'm hoping to get a taste of it as I travel the Country.

For this trip I'll be sharing more of my process in how these trips are accomplished. I'll be laying out my costings and sharing advice on how to achieve similar goals. Follow along on my @30HomeGames IG page and kindly get in touch if you have questions, tips or connections as I'd love to hear from fellow hoopsheads around Australia and the world.

Follow my dispatches on the hashtag #30HGoztour where I'll have daily snapshots of hoops around Australia

Update: March, 2018
Mission Accomplished!

 #30HGoztour