Home of the Wildcats: The picture above shows the Wildcats’ logo side by side with the Auburn City Council’s slogan: “Many cultures, one community.”
As a kid growing up, I had three great loves – history, photography and basketball.
Storytelling comes in as close second.
Not many people know this but it was through my exposure to the works of Andrew Bernstein and Nathaniel S. Butler – both renowned sports photographers who had covered games for the National Basketball Association (NBA) -that I developed my love for photography.
In terms of basketball history, I am a walking encyclopaedia.
I can talk about basketball all day long given the opportunity. In fact, I once spoke about it so much that someone suggested, sarcastically, that maybe I should write a book about it.
So I did. Or at least I am trying to.
I’m not a good basketball player but I love this game and I’ve learnt over the years that when you love something, you will always find away to utilise any resource at your disposal to improve it.
Dr. McDonnell’s “History Beyond The Classroom” program gave me the platform to achieve just that.
With the academic freedom he had given us, I decided to use my passions to craft a historical book, filled with stories, images and statistics, about basketball in Sydney, a city I have grown to love in my nine years living here. It is also a city in need of more literature to be written about its rich local basketball history.
Early years: Photographs of the PBA operating out of the Auburn Basketball Centre during the 1970-80’s with players playing on concrete floors.
Enter the Parramatta Basketball Association (PBA), the brains behind the Ultimate Basketball League (UBL).
I first came across the UBL in 2013, I remember quite a few of my friends played in their league. It was their inaugural season and it attracted a lot of former and aspiring National Basketball League (NBL) players such as Luke Martin, Ben Knight, Graeme Dann and Luke Kendall. The UBL’s full games were live streamed. They were even sponsored by Spalding – the official sponsor of the NBA. In other words, the UBL was a huge hit in the local basketball scene in Sydney.
Fast forward to 2015, I was searching for a historical organisation to create a project for so I decided to take a shot and contacted the UBL with a project proposal of possibly creating historical magazine commemorating their success so far. Within minutes of sending my message, I received reply from the league asking me to call Dawn Burke – the general manager of the PBA – to set a meeting so we can discuss the logistics of my project.
Over the phone, I told Dawn about my proposal and she was immediately on board. She told me that I came to the right place for history. Curiously I asked her “why?” At this point, all I knew was that the UBL was three years old. She then went on to tell me that the UBL was created by the PBA – a basketball association that was established in 1959. I was intrigued.
The following Saturday she took me to a room in the second floor of the Auburn Basketball Centre where more than twenty PBA championship banners adorned all four walls. Burke noted that those in display were only some of their titles. There were no space for the others! Old pictures from the 1970’s onwards gloriously hung from the walls. The windows were lined up with portraits showcasing a myriad of players, such as former Sydney Kings CEO Ian Robilliard and 2000 NBL Rookie of the Year, Derek Moore, who were developed by the Wildcats and had gone on to become key figures in Australian basketball history. Right then I realised that there was more to the UBL than what initially meets the eye.
PBA’s legacies: Ian Robilliard is only one of the Wildcats product who had gone on to make significant community impact at a national level, being named the CEO of the Sydney Kings from 2010-2012.
To feed my curiosity and to confirm that nobody had written about this topic, I decided to do more research on the Parramatta Basketball Association and the Wildcats – their representative team. I found a dozen of online newspaper articles and a bunch of pictures but nothing tells the rich story I just witnessed hanging on the walls of that one room at the Auburn Basketball Centre. I asked myself, “How can a basketball program that had developed the likes of Julian Khazzouh and Ben Arkell, some of Australia’s most talented basketball players, be this hard to research?” Fifty-six years of history and there was barely anything written about it. As a basketball fan, it was simply unacceptable.
I remembered that it was the only competition I have come across in the local scene to offer ten thousand dollars as its grand prize, courtesy of Gerald Malouf and Partners (GMP) and Dooley’s Lidcombe Catholic Club. Despite this knowledge, I knew money alone was not enough to keep an organisation going. I confirmed the reason for their success after weeks of volunteering with the UBL as a photographer. After learning about the history of the PBA and its operations, I understood now that it was the spirit of volunteerism and these volunteers’ love for the game of basketball – more so than money – that had been the key reasons behind the association’s longevity and success.
As weeks passed, I learnt more about the history of the PBA and the players who played in the UBL. I realised that there was a growing number of international players playing in the league – more than any other local leagues I have seen. So I decided to ask them about their stories. It turned out most of them had been using the UBL as a way of keeping themselves in game shape while major semi-professional leagues around Australia were in their offseason. Others were there to put together statistical outputs and game tapes that they hope to use in order to potentially land contracts to play professionally in Australia. There were players in the UBL who had played college and professional-level basketball not just in Australia but all over the world in countries such as the USA, Malaysia, Bolivia, Argentina and Peru. But most importantly, all of them are there to play basketball the way it is meant to be played – at a high level.
It was a story worth telling. It was a beautiful aspect of Sydney worth preserving and remembering.
Worldly talents: Pictured from left to right are Columbia College (Columbia, Missouri) alumni Terrell Turner, Cobras captain Jordan Lum Kon, Devon Sullivan, who starred in the Malaysian National Basketball League for the Kelantan Warriors, seven-time New South Wales basketball referee of the year Roger Shiels and retired Newcastle Falcons legend Butch Hays during a UBL game.
Since then, my original proposal of a twenty-page commemorative magazine had evolved into a digital book, which had burgeoned to over one hundred pages as we speak. It aims to put together the PBA’s history into a one cohesive narrative. Through this project, I had been able to use my skills as a photographer to showcase everyone involved in the UBL, regardless of whether they’re players, officials, staff or volunteers, and tell their basketball stories in context of the league. At the same time, my work aims to explore how the PBA had used its platform to improve the game of basketball and as a tool for social inclusion.
As a photographer, it was one of those moments when you look at something and you just know you have to take a picture of it because you do do not want to look back and say ‘Damn, I should’ve taken that shot.’
Yes, this assignment was meant to be a simple university capstone project for my history subject but I know it had become more than just that.
It is a collection of personal histories from all across the the world that were able to beautifully intertwine with each other because of one common factor – a deep, collective love for the game of basketball.
Sports journalist Bill Simmons once wrote almost a dozen books to commemorate his website called “Grantland.” His rationale for doing so was straightforward and uncomplicated. Simmons strongly believed that “those books needed to exist because you just never know.” Nothing is further from the truth. In life, you just never know. About anything. Whether this project becomes significant in some way is uncertain but it could and that’s enough for now.
Seeking exposure: Michael Walcott, from Toledo, Ohio, is a high-flying guard looking to use his time in the UBL to gain enough exposure and experience to play professional basketball, pictured here playing the center position for the Central Bulls
Note: All photographs used in this post was taken by yours truly.