Whanganui Midweek - 2021-06-09


Ball’s in their court: 11 x 100


Basketball is exploding in New Zealand; it is the second most played sport at secondary schools. Ballin' in Black is the only book of its kind celebrating New Zealand's Tall Blacks who have played 100 test. Award-winning basketball journalist, broadcaster and Tall Blacks manager Huw Beynon says, “Kiwi kids love US basketball. They should know that they too can make it to the world cups and the Olympics and play against their NBA heroes, just like the guys in the book did.” Eleven Tall Blacks tell Beynon their stories that range from the hilarious to the heart-breaking, the terrifying to the tender. We ask Beynon some questions: What inspired you to write this book? We hear a lot about how huge basketball is getting in New Zealand, and it is, I see it myself every week. Kids love to play the game, and they love to watch it and idolise their heroes. However, their heroes are LeBron James and Steph Curry. Nothing wrong with that at all of course, I too worship at the altar of LeBron, but I wanted to tell the stories of our New Zealand heroes. Players who have starred at Olympic Games, Kiwis who have beaten NBA stars on the big international stage, men who were boys just like us and went on to be superstars. There aren't enough (any) books on our great basketball players. This book scratches the surface at least of 11 of our best. Was is difficult finding out who these players were and if so why? It was! Basketball New Zealand are the first to admit that over the nearly 80 years that the Tall Blacks have been playing basketball, the record keeping hasn't been great. Thankfully, they have been, and still are, working very hard to rectify that. If it wasn't for the wonderful work of statistician Tony O'Connor this book wouldn't have happened. He has tirelessly tracked down stats and line-ups from almost every game ever. How did you feel when you were asked to be the Tall Blacks manager? It was a role I never envisioned myself doing. I've worked in media my entire career, and have been lucky enough to talk and write about basketball for most of it. When the Tall Blacks approached me for an interview (on the recommendation of the now former manager) I was taken aback. It's an honour to be involved in a team I care so much about, and I can't wait to get on the road with the guys. How popular is basketball in New Zealand? At the end of 2019, a survey was done around school sport, and basketball was second to only netball for participation in schools. I imagine, but don't know, that it has since overtaken netball. It's huge among kids. It's one of a few truly globally popular sports and with technology allowing the world to literally be at our fingertips, access to world-ending dunks and life-altering blocks is just a button push away. On top of that, it's an easy sport to play. You need a ball and a hoop (of which there are plenty). Was there one particular player whose story affected you the most and, if so, who and why? I knew most of the centurions before starting the interview and writing process, so it was the ones I didn't know that I got the biggest thrill out of talking to. I'd never met Tony Rampton or Mark Dickel and they couldn't be more different, both in personality and their basketball positions. The opening story in Mark's chapter is just plain crazy, and I still can't believe it happened. Without spoiling it too much, he came within minutes of dying on a basketball court in Las Vegas. His career, in my opinion, is one of the most undervalued in New Zealand sport. Tony is just such a great guy, and so proud to be a Tall Black. He had some real unlucky breaks in his career, but came out the end full of class and respect. What drew you to basketball in the first place and how did you become a broadcaster? My dad used to work in America quite a bit when I was growing up. He'd bring home NBA hats and T-shirts for me, and I got into it that way. I played at school, and through my 20s and have just always loved the game. I studied broadcasting at university, and then was lucky enough to get an internship at TV3. That became a full time role, and I went from there! What does basketball mean to you?It's been a huge part of my life, and I've been unbelievably fortunate to make a career out of covering it.


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