– Where Basketball never stops

Melbourne United – Ally or Oops?

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Well, it’s official.

The Melbourne Tigers as we’ve known them for many, many years cease to exist. The club has commenced with a full-blown re-brand and will henceforth be known as ‘Melbourne United’. To say the initial feedback via social media has been negative, would be like saying the North Korean government is somewhat unstable.

The reaction from Twitter and Facebook users has been intense. A vast majority of people are outraged at the club’s seeming disregard for the history and values that the Tiger name once represented. Others have dropped the club cold, demanding refunds on memberships and unfollowing all media related to ‘United’. The overall theme is negative but it’s also highly emotional. This change has come from out of the blue and it has left people feeling robbed, with no say in the future of a club they’ve put time, effort and money into.

By all accounts, they just might have the right to feel cheated.


The history of the Melbourne Tigers is probably the biggest bone of contention. People evidently feel that the great names such as Gaze, Copeland, Bradtke, etc. have all been disrespected. This may be true to a degree but one thing to consider that hasn’t been widely spoken of, is the names and retired jerseys etc. of other Melbourne basketball greats whose actual names, jerseys and records have disappeared into the ether, gone forever … perhaps.

Where is Darren Lucas’ recognition? Bruce Bolden’s? Paul Maley’s? The names are too many to mention. To be brutally honest, the NBL does an absolutely horrible job of recognising past greats of Melbourne basketball. I would suggest that a large percentage of young Melbourne Tiger fans probably don’t even know that Darryl ‘D-Mack’ McDonald was an absolute superstar for the North Melbourne Giants.

The who?

Or that Darren Lucas, John Dorge and Tony Ronaldson were loved and/or hated while playing for the South East Melbourne Magic during the early 90’s, much like Carlton and/or Collingwood. The NBL-following public generally falls into two camps. One camp desperately wants the halcyon days of the league to return, while the other constantly whinges that the league will never be the same. The NBL itself would kill for the ‘glory days’ and glory dollars that come with 15,000-seat stadiums being filled regulalry, yet all they actually do to recognise the past, is trot out retro jerseys once a year. The same jerseys that took some fans close to 12 months to receive from AND-NONE after purchase. So for all the whinging, whining and complaining about wanting the past to be the present and future, things actually have to change … for things to change.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a Tigers fan since primary school. I absolutely love, cherish, respect and thank every player and coach who has ever donned the Melbourne Tigers uniform. The memories provided by these Tigers are distant but cherished, especially Mark Bradtke’s defense on Andrew Vlahov’s missed triple in the ’93 Finals, Robert Sibley’s dancing with victorious gusto on the Perth Entertainment Centre court and of course Andrew Gaze putting a choke-hold on his father Lindsay that would get him to at least the semi-finals of The Ultimate Fighter.


The alley-oops from Gaze to Copeland, the “Bad to the Bone” music for Ray Gordon and the Brett Rainbow dunk contest victories, all these moments are locked into my heart and will never leave.

But where has it been all heading since ‘the glory days’?

Basketball in Melbourne, while showing improvement of late, is still a long way from where I think any of us hoops fans would like to see it. Having the Melbourne Tigers ‘hold the fort’ in their recent flavour, just wasn’t growing the NBL footprint at a rate of knots, let alone enough to support a second team. Put simply, the support was just not there and no one was willing to put up the cash to run the gauntlet on “the other Melbourne team”.

In my personal experience, for every new fan that checked out a Tigers game over the past two years, another would tell me that they didn’t bother going anymore. The Tigers were fighting the good fight but were risking becoming a legacy brand in Melbourne, slowly overtaken by other codes with bigger plans and strangely enough smaller wallets.

The inevitable link has been made between the junior Melbourne Tigers club and the inability to crack that market for family memberships. This has been a long standing issue with Melbourne’s NBL team, who recognise that not everyone loves or has loved the Tigers since their inception. With such a graveyard of former teams supported over the past 25 years, it says the most about Melbourne’s basketball-following potential that few decided to jump ship to the Tigers. Even with the only NBL team in town, these loyal fans wouldn’t dare join the ‘enemy’…

Well now the enemy has come to them.

This is where I thought the plan would be flawed. Supporters of previous Melbourne teams all but joining forces with the hated Tigers just seemed like a crazy notion. But with re-branding comes new identity and if this ownership group led by Larry Kestelman can properly represent and respect all of these former clubs somehow, the rewards could be huge. It’s no secret that the NBL wants a second Melbourne team playing in its league and if you can provide a positive outlet for all the old Giants, Magic, Titans, Spectres and Saints fans out there to be a part of, it sure beats some “other Melbourne team” engaging with them and their dollars. Money is a major factor in today’s decision, there’s no doubting that but the money comes when the basketball is booming and that’s ultimately what we want.

We want the game of basketball to be huge again.

Now let’s get back to the social media reaction for one moment. While I witnessed some genuine emotion from long-time Tigers supporters after the announcement, the majority (in my opinion) seemed hellbent on simply jumping onboard the hate train. You know the type, the same negative people who jump on social media every other day to spit their ‘wisdom’. It wouldn’t matter if the Melbourne Tigers had just won the NBL championship, they would still emerge online with comments like “So what? It’s only the NBL and it’s lame”.

These people cannot and will not ever be pleased, so when Melbourne United point guard (still getting used to that) Nate Tomlinson tweeted this little novel, you knew he was playing with fire.


Of course, mixed in amongst a personal commitment to the city of Melbourne as well as bringing a championship back to the Garden State, the comment regarding not having “been to games consistently” is what caught most people’s attention. I agree with Nate on this, as it seems a lot of people are more outraged for the Melbourne Tigers of 20 years ago, than they are for the Melbourne Tigers of 2014.

There’s no shame in not attending games like you used to and it’s not like the NBL is shoved down our throats via TV. Life is busy and people change but so do sports teams and if less people buy tickets, then clubs need more people to buy tickets. Should the Melbourne Tigers have continued to try and coax memberships out of families whose parents EMBRACED their own former clubs and HATED the one that remained? You can’t get to the kids without getting to the parents’ disposable income and if the parents hated/hate you, then you’re fighting a losing battle.

The strategy is bold and it assumes an incredible risk but if it comes off, it just may springboard the foot traffic to support a second and maybe even a third Melbourne NBL team in the future. Well, at least a second. (Relax Hendo)

Finally, the elephant in the room … the name, Melbourne United.


While I’m not a fan of the name, (it clearly sounds incredibly soccer-related) I am a fan of the decision to make a change. The NBL is down to a borderline embarrassing eight (8) teams and the league has seen more folding in the past eight years than a poker tournament. At least from a Melbourne perspective, (which is an important market to the NBL’s future) the time has come to “shoot for the Sudan” as they say in the classic film White Men Can’t Jump.

And this could be one hell of a hook shot.

With a marquee player rule being introduced this coming season, a desire to reach all corners of Victoria’s hoops community and financial security the opportunity to put on a great hoops show has never been better. New heroes to join existing ones, flying up and down the court, playing the game we love at the highest level our country has to offer.

Change is never fun, change is never easy and to keep it 100% real, the change would have been impossible if it was put to a public or member vote. The same people (genuine or otherwise) would have made so much noise that a step forward to embrace a larger community would not have been possible.

Will it work? I don’t know. But I would prefer a larger audience turning the wheels of basketball in Melbourne, than slowly watching it die a painful death due to a waning audience and an “it’s still not the 90’s” attitude.

What were the Melbourne Tigers before Lanard Copeland came to town? They were the ‘family club’, led by a skinny, humble kid with a killer three-point stroke and they had never won anything. While there will never, ever be another Gaze and Copeland, the chance is here to build new heroes and launch Melbourne basketball back into the sporting stratosphere… while not leaving all of the other stars of OUR league lost in the (lack of) history books.

The lob pass was thrown today people, who is willing to catch it?

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Hendo has been a basketball-crazed individual since 1986. Since he started playing the game as an eight year-old he has been a fan of the NBL and the NBA. With countless VCR tapes full of old games and highlights, he's a devoted fan of the "Bill Woods Era" when it comes to Aussie hoops on TV. Bringing a Melbourne-centric flavour to ATF, Hendo plans to stick around a while and bring you some entertaining factoids from across the NBL.

Latest posts by Paul Henderson (see all)


Take away the Tigers name and history and you join the very disposable list of clubs like SE Magic, Titans, Dragons, etc, etc. They were the clubs that couldn't get people to their games. They were the teams that the fans abandoned. Why would you show your loyal fans the door? It's stupidity that could only come from the mind of a recent marketing graduate. I endorse Abbott's attempt to make a marketing degree $1M so we can hopefully starve these parasites to death once and for all. #WeWereMelbourneTigersOnceandProud


@HendoHoops @MelbUnited article good - still don't like the name. Oh thanks for the North Korean gov joke have been using it all day cheers.


@HendoHoops Very reasoned article. Not a Tigers fan, but disappointed. I can understand the decision, but you don't buy Tigers to change it.


The intention is okay but the execution and name are appalling.  


@HendoHoops Nice! (I also had no idea Victoria was known as the Garden State until reading that)


@HendoHoops another outstanding article bro. Bonus points for the hate train reference!


@kingpodge Thanks bro. Much appreciated. Hoping to minimise ticket sales to the train. ;)


@kingpodge @HendoHoops 'the same negative people who jump on social media every other day to spit their ‘wisdom’ What is an Eade?