EVERY sports league for every season is structured for one particular moment. To see which group of individuals were talented and cohesive enough to hold up a certain trophy high above their heads. A symbolic gesture of rising above the rest. Sure, the seasonal stories are entertaining, and learning about new or transforming players is fascinating but at the end of the day, they are all just subplots. Subplots consisting of factors and details that our sports brains have naturally laid out on a timeline that ends and begins with the labelling of champions. Everything in sports leads to that ultimate prize. Which is why it was so unlike any other year that in the middle of a highly anticipated grand final, the Sydney Kings pulled out due to a fear of a new and deadly virus.
The first game of the NBL Grand Final Series between the Kings and the Perth Wildcats went exactly as expected. The game was high paced at a high intensity as the Wildcats crawled out of Sydney victorious by a singular basket. Fans had set a high bar of expectation for the rest of the series, but news quickly emerged that they would not be able to attend Game Two. With the ever increasing fear and spread of COVID-19, the two juggernauts of Australia basketball were forced to play the most awaited game all the season by the fans, without a fan in attendance.
From the very first tip off, it just never felt right. Sydney tied the series with a 97-83 demolition. But without the screaming supporters, the constant distracting chants, and the atmosphere created only when thousands of people react to the same thing at the same time as passionate as they possibly can. Personally, it looked kind of uncomfortable. Perth would go on to win Game Three, but that feeling fans would get watching Miles Plumlee slam it down on two defenders to only hear the bench and a few coaches cheer, would not go away.
But at least the fans were not too furious. At the end of the day, sports is not everything. But when the Sydney Kings pulled out of the grand final all together, the fans were a little less accepting. Questions like do we reschedule the remaining games? Is this it? Are Perth now champions? Flooded every fan’s minds simultaneously. Not even the Wildcats were sure what happened. Everyone had been working for a common goal for 12 months, and were this close to seeing it through and then, it just stopped. After a stage of unprecedented confusion, Perth was awarded champions and Bryce Cotton would take home finals MVP. The series would always be remembered as the craziest moment in not just the season, but in the history of the NBL.