I grew up in a mixed AFL family, in which all five of us supported different teams. Not long ago, I asked my brother whether he was going to follow in the footsteps of our parents and allow his eldest to choose his own team, or if the kid was going to be like so many others and have his team chosen for him. “He can choose his own,” came the reply. “But if the Canberra Cannons return to the NBL, then his support will just be assumed.”
My family grew up supporting the Cannons throughout their heyday in the 80’s and 90’s. Some of my earliest memories involve taking naps on Saturday afternoons so that I could be awake enough to join the family in our season ticket seats at The Palace in the evening.
The phases of my youth were reflected in my Cannons experiences. I started as the littlest kid of the family who were collecting endless aluminium cans after games, fundraising for my elder brother’s representative basketball trips. I grew into the young player surrounded by similarly awe-struck, beaming teammates in the photo when our club team played in The Palace for the first time. Later, I became one of the young teenage players who would sell programs at the door. Next, I graduated to be one of those spending the games watching from standing room as I and all of the other local teenage players talked – and occasionally flirted – our way through the games, distant from our parents in the seats. And finally, I was back in the seats with my folks again, old enough to understand that my enjoyment of their company at basketball games would never be surpassed.
Recent news articles have stated that the NBL is about to expand its league, aiming to introduce four new teams. If The Canberra Times is to be believed, there’s going to be a large bid from a Canberran group wanting to bring back the Cannons.
Old Cannons fans have been writing comments online supporting the move, reminiscing over names of Cannons stars from the past and transporting themselves back to another time.
Incredibly, no-one seems to be talking in a more defensive fashion.
During its 35 year history, the now 8-team NBL has amassed a list of 33 defunct teams.
My son is 2 years old, and if the Cannons return, his support – like that of his cousins – will be assumed. The family will reunite with the NBL, bonding over a team in a way that we don’t in our split-footy-family environment. I can only guess at the experiences and memories the Cannons might provide him if they exist in the future, but I would hope they would replicate the great joys their original incarnation gave to both his mother and I. For she was there too, always sitting somewhere in The Palace. We were two kids with their families, completely unaware of each other’s presence.
When the Cannons disappeared from the league in 2003, Mrs EPO and I had just moved out of home, taking off to Wollongong together. We attended our last Cannons game – the team’s second last ever – when they were thumped in Wollongong’s Sandpit, a half-empty stadium of Hawks fans completely unaware of the numbness we both felt as we fell silent throughout the second half. We were both individually reflecting on how we had grown up with the team and its city, keenly sensing the finality associated with the loss of our respective childhoods.
Ultimately, though, we were lucky.
I can’t bear to imagine how I would have felt had the Cannons been taken away when I was anywhere between the ages of 4 and 15. I can’t comprehend the experiences of those thousands of Australian basketball-loving kids who have lost their favourite team in the past.
I would love the 2-year-old to grow up with a re-booted Cannons. But if they do exist and he falls in love with them, only for them to become one of the 80% of NBL teams that don’t survive, it would destroy me. I would want all of the NBL and Cannons administrators to deliver the news personally to all of the kids who suffer the fate of having their colours and heroes taken away. Like adults, kids enjoy the simplistic beauty, clear morality and endless consistency of a great sporting love while desperately trying to make sense out of an otherwise uncertain, unclear and ever-changing world. To take a team away from them is beyond unfair.
Please, basketball administrators of Australia and New Zealand, remember your key constituents. Remember the power you have to influence lives. Make sure a team is sustainable in the long term before you give a local team to children from four more cities.
And on a more personal note, if you give my son the Cannons, you’d bloody well better be sure that he has them for as long as I did.
That’s not too much to ask, is it?
This post was also published on Downtown, a new Australian website covering the NBL, NBA and basketball culture.