From con to icon: Kings forgiven for their sins

It’s a Saturday evening during the summer of 2008/09 and I’m walking up Swan Street, Richmond, dressed in a South Dragons polo shirt with a membership lanyard hanging from the neck. 

About to cross the Punt Road intersection for a night of hoops at Hisense Arena, I spot a couple in their mid-20s heading towards me from the opposite direction. As they stroll past, the male mutters under his breath, “Pfft, no one cares about the NBL without the Kings and Bullets.”

It seems a flawed observation.

The Sydney Kings had descended into a laughing stock during their latter years, tarnished by connotations of empty seats, bouncing cheques, a fraudulent owner, and threats of having their licence revoked in the middle of a playoff campaign.

The Brisbane Bullets, meanwhile, were hardly a hot ticket item prior to finding themselves in the middle of Eddy Groves’ fall from financial grace.

Yet, according to the passerby on Swan Street, the Kings and Bullets’ presence was somehow metonymic for public interest in the entire league.

This is a classic example of the power of nostalgia.

As has been argued in the circles of academia, nostalgia represents the yearning for a history that never was.

The Kings of the modern era were an off-court disaster, but the need for nostalgia sees the reshaping of history in order to perpetuate desired myths.

In the Kings’ case, effects of the Tim Johnston era were replaced by memories of the club’s glory days under the ownership of the late Mike Wrublewski during the 1990s. By reinscribing images of a sold-out Sydney Entertainment Centre into the Kings’ brand, the game’s doomsayers could argue that the club’s demise signalled the death of the league as a whole.

However, with the NBL confirming the resurrection of the Sydney Kings for season 2010/11, this practice could suddenly work in basketball’s favour.

A case in point is Wednesday’s article on the Daily Telegraph website, with sports Chief of Staff Tim Morrissey trumpeting the Kings’ return.  Morrissey opens the article with a reference to Rodney O – the Kings’ popular court announcer during the 1990s – before reporting that Bob Turner would run the club as CEO. 

Turner, of course, led the Kings under Wrublewski and played a pioneering role in using the media as a promotional tool.

Former greats such as Steve Carfino, Damian Keogh, Brad Dalton, Dwayne “D-Train” McClain and Leon “Neon” Trimmingham are then mentioned as possible role-players within the reborn franchise, while accompanying the article is a black and white photo of a triumphant Kings team circa 1990.

The Telegraph concludes the article by informing readers that Morrissey played for the Kings between 1988 and 1994.

Save for a brief reference, the escapades of Tim Johnston are conspicuous by their absence.

With the Kings’ brand seemingly cleansed, the NBL finds itself in unfamiliar territory, whereby society’s insatiable appetite for nostalgia has seen the otherwise merciless Sydney media represent basketball through a favourable narrative.

The Kings of old are back.

Will anyone care?

Perhaps we’ll have to ask the bloke on Swan Street.

Nostalgia’s done wonders for Bert Newton’s career; now it’s about to help the reborn Sydney Kings.