Basketball New Zealand is a finalist in two categories for the 2021 New Zealand Sport and Recreation Awards, which celebrate individuals and organisations making outstanding contributions to enhance people’s lives through sport and recreation.

The first accolade is as a finalist for the ‘Community Impact Award’ in recognition for the BBNZ Hoops In Schools project. The other finalists are Touch New Zealand for their ‘Community Connect – Igniting Potential’ project and also Sport Tasman’s ‘Active Recreation (RARA) for Refugee programme’.

Hoops In Schools was launched in May 2018. Since then, BBNZ’s project has installed hoops in 28 schools throughout New Zealand and are set to announce more in the near future. The Hoops In Parks pilot has since been added to work with Territorial Authorities. The programmes are run in conjunction with local Associations. The programme also supplies equipment, plus Girls Got Game and Kiwi Hoops programmes.

The second award category that BBNZ is a finalist for is the ‘COVID-19 Response Award’. Other finalists include AgeFIT HOME, Nuku Ora and Sport Waikato. The winner will be decided by public vote via a method yet to be announced by Sport NZ.

Basketball New Zealand is a finalist in this category through the work done to see the Sal’s NBL Showdown created and successfully completed after the regular NZNBL season was postponed just two weeks before its intended start.

The uncertainties created by COVID-19 saw severely limited revenue streams and teams couldn’t afford to play. On the flip side, the NBL couldn’t afford not to play, with significant multi-year commercial agreements at risk in the event of cancellation. Suddenly, COVID-19 threatened to cause irreparable damage to what had been built in recent years.

The NBL presented the idea of a six-and-a-half week ‘hub model’ to NBL franchises. The unique model would see athletes stay together at one hotel in Auckland for the duration of the season, and play televised games behind closed doors at one venue on a nightly basis.

The discussions and negotiations with teams, sponsors, accommodation and venue providers took place over a four-week period, with seven teams supporting the bold proposal.

BBNZ was so committed to the season and convinced of the new format’s possibilities, that they underwrote the event without any guaranteed government funding. They saw the idea as crucial – it needed to be played to keep the NBL alive and on course, a course BBNZ had been strongly investing in since first livestreaming the product in 2014 in order to attract commercial interest.

Amazingly, in a year where commercial partners were withdrawing from most sports, additional partners were secured for what became known as the Sal’s NBL Showdown (Sal’s Showdown). Television coverage of all 56 games, over 28 game nights, was negotiated with Sky Sport. This would be the first time in the NBL’s history that every single NBL game would be broadcast live.

As the event drew closer, the New Zealand COVID-19 alert system changed, meaning spectators were able to attend games. This provided further opportunities for the Sal’s Showdown and led the NBL to, at one stage, be the only basketball league in the world with fans attending games.

The League’s first-ever player draft drew fantastic media interest. The event was then held in a Hub, backed by SkyCity who homed every team. Then, amazingly, ESPN signed up to broadcast all 56 games in the United States.

The Sal’s Showdown was played by seven teams, 84 players, enjoyed 115 hours or broadcast and finished with a sell-out Grand Final that was an absolute thriller.

CEO Raelene Castle says the judging panel were highly impressed by the calibre of entries this year, especially given the challenges presented throughout 2020. She added that the COVID-19 Response Award recognises the achievements of organisations in response to the disruption and hardship caused by the pandemic.

“We felt it important to acknowledge the disruption caused by COVID-19 and the immense effort that went on across the sector to keep organisations viable and New Zealanders moving. Through challenging times great leaders emerge and I believe the quality of entries this year reflects that,” says Castle.

The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on 21 June at Claudelands Event Centre in Hamilton, with 20 finalists shortlisted across five main category awards: Commercial Partnership, Community Impact, COVID-19 Response, Leadership in Diversity and Inclusion and Māori Participation. All the categories and finalists can be found on the Sport NZ website here.