Basketball was introduced into New Zealand by the YMCA, encouraged by Mormon missionaries and popular among servicemen returning from the Pacific after World War II. The first national championships were held in 1938, but these tournaments were replaced in the 1980s by the men’s and women’s national leagues.
Internationally, the Tall Black men and Tall Fern women have both attended world championship tournaments and Olympic Games. The men were invited to the 1986 world championships in Spain where they defeated Malaysia 77-75 for their first victory at this level. The women attended the 1994 championships in Australia and had their only victory against Kenya (93-76) in the final round.
In 2000, both men and women attended the Sydney Olympics where they each won one game – the men beat Angola 70-60, while the women overcame Senegal 72-69. The men continued their emergence on the world stage by stunning Australian in the 2001 FIBA Oceania Championships – their first series victory over the Boomers – to qualify for the 2002 world championships in Indianapolis, where they further surprised by reaching the semifinals.
In 2004, the men and women again attended the Athens Olympics. The Tall Blacks upset reigning world champions Serbia & Montenegro in pool play, while the Tall Ferns toppled China and Korea to qualify for the quarterfinals.
Two years later, the Tall Blacks were back at the world championships, progressing to the eighth-finals before falling to Olympic gold medalists Argentina.
When Australia captured the FIBA World Championship for Women, they again left the way open for the Tall Ferns to attend their third consecutive Olympics in Beijing, 2008. En route, the Kiwi women achieved their first ever victory over the Opals.
The development of basketball in New Zealand has slowly, but surely picked up momentum over the past few years. With the success of our national teams, Basketball New Zealand has had to increase its service of the code’s grassroots to foster more and better players, coaches, referees and administrators.
As more opportunities open up, this will become even more daunting, but it’s our job … and our passion.