The Tall Blacks campaign is over. I’m sad, but it’s tinged with hope, because this was largely a young team which will build anew from here, and there was something a bit magical about their play at times. But more on them later. There’s a more pressing issue which needs addressing.
The New Zealand fans. The guys above embody all the worst things about our national team supporters – particularly those overseas with the light on them. As Silvio Dante would say “disgusting”.
Where to begin? Homemade singlets, for starters. I would kill for a legit NZ singlet. They’re sponsored by f***ing Amway! That’s pretty much the top tier of absurd national team sponsors I reckon. But wife beaters and vivid? C’mon bros, step your game up. Secondly, the bowties? Is it a stag? Please let it be a stag. But even if it is, they’re at every game in that artless get-up, shaming our nation worse than Sonny ‘the rapist’ Shaw – who thankfully didn’t make the trip.
Beyond that, the haka? Jesus Christ. It’s bad enough that the Tall Blacks do one – and it’s Ka Mate, one indelibly associated with another New Zealand sports team, who they’ve already punsomely swiped the name from. But fans in the stands, all white, completely out of time, in f***ing bowties and wife beaters? Please, no. Instead, a fan of a very different age and gender lit my fire during the champs:
She’s amazing. Quasi-religious fervor, always daintily waving the flag, eyes cast to the heavens after every basket – you were never sure whether it was because she was about to keel over or to thank the Divine – and tasteful old lady clothing and jewelry. She couldn’t have contrasted more violently with those terrible oiks.
Anyway, two methods of expressing your fandom. Make the right choice, OK? Returning to the Tall Blacks… You have to call this a successful campaign. Both because they advanced further than anyone expected them to, but also for the way they did it. I guess what I’m most into is the way they genuinely seem to have developed a style of play all their own, a high energy, hustling game which is also patient and purist. The number of times they scored very late in the shot clock against France was extremely pleasing, taking advantage of the slight throttling back the defensive team undergoes when it thinks its work is done. Their passing game was also as effective as it was unflashy.
They also went on some incredible runs. That second quarter against France, where they kept a team with two NBA starters (including one who makes more in a month than our whole team does in a year) to just five points, was one of the best performances by a New Zealand side I’ve seen all year. And while Phill Jones and Pero Cameron played key roles at times, (and I LOVED seeing them get one last hurrah), it was the young team who really carried this side.
Scratch that – it was Kirk Penney who carried the side. His 24.7 ppg average has him second only to Luis Scola in tournament averages, and he was in the form of his life throughout their six games. It didn’t go unnoticed either. But the soul of the team, the source of its energy and its self belief – that was Thomas Abercrombie, Mika Vukona, Michael Fitchett and co – guys who shouldn’t really be able to do anything against bigger, taller and more skilled opponents, but refused to let reality take root in their minds.
I couldn’t watch the loss to Russia. I had it MySkyed but Andrew Mulligan (who is well worth a follow) was tweeting about it (my fault for even being there), and I deleted the game unwatched. Just made a decision to remember the good times in this tournament. With this side (and this coach – Vucinic handled his young charges brilliantly, I thought) I think we’ll get many more.