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WW - 36ers V Breakers, February 7, 2009

WAYBACK Wednesday was a weekly feature I wrote last season for Adelaide 36ers website, which now you can revisit, see for the first time or completely ignore!



IT was always going to be emotional.

How could it have been anything else when a sell-out crowd of 8,000 packed the Distinctive Homes Dome to bid farewell to Brett Maher, the man synonymous with the Adelaide 36ers, with success, with dignity, with competitiveness and with calm in the face of adversity.

Maher, 35, was all that and more across a 522-game NBL career which ended - at home at least - with his appearance against New Zealand and a mighty 102-91 win.

A triple-Olympian, triple-championship captain and dual Larry Sengstock medallist as the Grand Final MVP, Maher stands head and shoulders above as not only the greatest 36er but the greatest South Australian basketball player of all time.

That's what the sell-out crowd acknowledged with its one-minute standing ovation after he had been introduced pre-game on the court where he played his 263rd and farewell home game, having started his career at the Dome's opening night in 1992.

No-one has played more games in one stadium so when club owner Mal Hemmerling declared centre stage would forever be known as The Brett Maher Court, the approval was deafening.

“Brett Maher is a player who epitomises a champion on and off the court,” Hemmerling said.

Accompanied by daughter Cheyenne, Maher was given a widescreen television by club sponsors after he had come through an honour guard formed by a who's who of his stellar career.

Original Adelaide 36ers championship winners from the 1986 team - the source of much of his inspiration - Al Green, Mike McKay, Peter Ali, Dwayne Nelson, Ray Wood and David Spear, were joined by treasured teammates such as Brett Wheeler, Graham Kubank, Rupert Sapwell, Paul Rees and Darren Ng.

Phil Smyth and Steve Breheny, coach and assistant coach through his 1998-99-02 championship seasons, also stood in his honour guard, along with his original 36ers coach Don Shipway and assistant Albert Leslie.

In a special touch, physiotherapist Michael Woodcock, a club fixture from 1986 through to 2008, and team doctor Graham Lee - two men who helped keep Maher healthy and on court - completed his guard of honour.

“He is the greatest Adelaide 36er,” Sixers coach Scott Ninnis said.

“He is simply irreplaceable.”

Maher's first touch in the game, at 9:28, in the first period was a trademark swishing 3-pointer which had the faithful in full voice.

Four-time 36ers MVP and Maher’s successor as 36ers captain, Adam Ballinger last season played his 300th NBL game.

When asked to recall his most memorable, Ballinger said it was this very game.

“Just to be involved that night, to see what Mahersy meant to Adelaide, it was such a special night,” Balls said.

Ballinger led the scoring that night as well, but it was Maher’s trademark long-range triple that sealed the deal.

From the moment the guided missile left his hands, it was dead on target.

It was entirely appropriate the player delivering the killer blow to New Zealand was Maher, the man of the hour.

The man who made the Distinctive Homes Dome his personal basketball playground swished a playground shot with 5:57 left, the shot-clock a millisecond from expiring.

Instead it was the Breakers expiring as Maher delivered his 17th point from just inside the half-court line to send the Sixers to 91-80 ahead, the game finally broken open.

The final few minutes were academic beyond seeing how many points former 36er Oscar Forman would compile for New Zealand, and it was a withering 26 at 50 per cent, his new career high.

“He never ceases to amaze me,” Ninnis said of Maher and “that shot”.

It was huge and even had Maher uncharacteristically pumping his fist with elation.

Adelaide had opened the game in superb fashion, Rod Grizzard connecting on his first Dome 3-pointer - he would have 4-of-6 in 14 points he collated in the first half before cramps and heat exhaustion took their toll.

Triples by Forman and CJ Bruton gave New Zealand its last lead at 6-5.

Then Maher swished his first three for the lead, igniting a 13-0 run which included two more breathtaking personal plays - a fullcourt pass for a Brad Davidson lay-up and a one-on-one battle with Forman which Maher completed with a jumpshot - and two more Grizzard triples.

When Ballinger (19 points, 10 rebounds) put away consecutive shots after a mini-Breakers run, the sellout crowd was in raptures.

A slam dunk and bonus free throw by Luke Schenscher (17 points, seven rebounds, countless bad calls) and a jumper on the break by Aaron Bruce had the 36ers firing at 29-13.

But with Dillon Boucher given carte blanche to play rugby and Tom Abercrombie making headway off the Breakers' bench, the visitors rallied to close to 26-33.

Order restored with Ballinger, Maher and Grizzard regaining the momentum, Adelaide pulled out to 46-30 in the second. Sixers were 58-41 away at half-time, the Breakers looking shot.

To their credit considering they were down leading scorer Kirk Penney and had to play in Wollongong two days earlier, the Breakers came out firing after the interval.

Bruton and Tony Ronaldson clicked away triples while Tim Behrendorff continued setting some of the best illegal screens seen at the Dome.

Closing within double digits, New Zealand briefly resembled the team which whipped Adelaide by 38 points earlier in the season.

But when the 216cm Schenscher ran the floor like a guard and threw down a slam dunk, then grappled for a loose ball on the floor, it was clear the Breakers would need to find something very special.

“It was Mahersy's night and the guys just weren't going to let him down,” Ninnis said.

With Forman finding Brad Hill's defence inconsequential, Phill Jones creating room and Bruton making the most of his open looks, the Breakers were threatening again at 80-88.

Their next defensive stand was a beauty too, before Maher gathered up the ball and let loose for what, ultimately, would be the back-breaker.

The win lifted Adelaide to 15-14 with one game left against Wollongong.

It was an entirely fitting way for Maher to close the book on the Dome, his signature on the floor forever marking the spot from which his epic game-clincher was released.

Sep 3

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