Left to right: Alana Paewai, Dennis Jones, Jessica Moors meet at the Sal’s NBL 18IN18 Grand Final, December 2020
The All New Zealand Camp started today, where two keen basketball fans will be visiting to admire New Zealand’s rising talent, Dennis and Marjean Jones.
The Joneses have donated to the New Zealand junior programme. It was while admiring the action at the NBL Showdown in July that the Joneses approached Basketball New Zealand with an offer to help. Their pledge, which was matched by Basketball New Zealand for this camp, was immediately put towards decreasing the participants’ cost.
“Helping young players develop and reach their potential is really satisfying and, if we can remove some of the financial barriers, it will not only help the individuals but also help the game in this country flourish,” said Marjean.
The pair take an active interest in the junior game. Dennis was at the 18IN18 watching U19 Camp attendees Jess Moors and Alana Paewai go head to head in the Grand Final. Both were courtside during the Sal’s NBL watching the likes of Taine Murray, Alex McNaught, Akiva McBirney-Griffin and Mason Whittaker dip their toes at the elite level.
“Watching players make that transition from school to American scholarships or the NBL is exciting. Playing a small part in that progression it is very satisfying. We like the educational routes that are available to athletes as well as the playing pathways,” says Dennis.
This continued support of the Joneses adds to the ongoing work of Basketball New Zealand to build the junior programme camp resources. With the support of the likes of sponsors Aon, local funders and the occasional philanthropic gesture Basketball New Zealand has invested over $150k each year for the past four years, helping to partially cover big ticket items for teams like travel and accommodation. Keep in mind though, with boys and girls’ teams in U15, U17 and U19 age-groups, there are over 100 young players in the programme.
Basketball New Zealand High Performance Director Leonard King says while the junior programme is a self-funding model, his team works hard to identify anyone struggling and help those talented athletes.
“Potentially these young athletes go through a three-year cycle of Oceanias, Asian Champs and then possibly World Cups. The exposure is incredible, the pride in representing New Zealand is wonderful, and the experience can be amazing, but yes the cost can be an issue for some so we pull what we can from other sources to help. Every bit helps and this incredible gesture from Marjean and Dennis is exceptional, and fantastic that BBNZ matched that as well, which all goes straight into supporting the kids,” says King.
Dennis and Marjean Jones arrived in New Zealand in January 1994 after spending the previous two and a half years in Melbourne. They had lived in the Bay Area of California prior to moving to Australia. With a young family in tow, little did they know that it was the beginning of a love affair with not only the country, but also New Zealand basketball. The Iowa natives set up Burger King NZ and, with their chain of stores on the increase, so too was their basketball involvement.
Dennis had played American football and basketball in high school, but it was basketball that ignited the couple’s sporting passion.
“We grew up in a small community where playing basketball was a big deal, the whole town came out for the Tuesday and Friday night games,” said Marjean.
It began in 1995 when they began sponsoring National Basketball League (NBL) team North Harbour Vikings and support for teams and individuals has continued every year since.
At various times the couple have put money, time and business acumen behind the Tall Blacks, Tall Ferns, various NBL teams and the Breakers. In recent years they have also extended their generosity to the basketball’s grassroots.
Back in the late nineties former Charlotte Hornets NBA player and now University of Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett arrived to play for the Vikings.
“Tony and his wife Laurel were like extra kids for us. They lived with us for a while and we have remained good friends,” said Dennis.
Not only was it the start of the close friendship with the Bennett’s, and a bigger investment in the Vikings, but also the growth of Burger King’s basketball sponsorship portfolio.
It’s not unusual for companies to provide money and product in sponsorship packages, what is less common is shipping basketball hoops halfway across the world. Tony Bennett learned that his former alma mater Wisconsin University were replacing the hoops at their basketball arena. He realized they would be perfect replacements for the older hoops at the North Shore Events Centre (now Eventfinda Stadium).
No sooner the word than the deed as Dennis organized, and paid for, the shipping.
Over twenty years later, the hoops that have been rattled by dunks from the likes of Tom Abercrombie, Phil Jones, Pero Cameron and Casey Frank, still adorn the Eventfinda show-court. They have witnessed Tall Black triumphs, Breakers ANBL Grand Final wins and countless national grand finals.
Their support for the venue has been ongoing. A couple of years ago Eventfinda Stadium failed to get FIBA’s stamp of approval to host international games. Again the Joneses stepped up to the plate by helping with the upgrade including the purchase of LED screens, score system, hoops and backboards. Hopefully it won’t be long before international games return to the North Shore.
“I’ve watched most of my basketball in New Zealand at Eventfinda so it is pleasing that the Breakers and Tall Blacks can return to the stadium in the future.”
The Joneses support at the elite level is better known in New Zealand basketball circles. In 1997 the NBL became known as the Burger King National Basketball League and three years later the company put their brand and resources behind the Tall Blacks.
“Tab Baldwin had taken over as Head Coach and I could see the potential of the team, but resources were needed to give the Tall Blacks a chance of qualifying for 2002 World Cup.
“We sponsored a short tour in 2000, and a trip to the Goodwill Games before the team returned to defeat Australia 2-1 in a three-game World Championship Qualifying Series.
“Then it was another tour in 2002 ahead of the World Champs in Indianapolis,” says Dennis.
The Joneses vision and investment was rewarded. The Tall Blacks set the basketball world abuzz with their fourth-place finish at the 2002 FIBA World Championship with the team and his business reaping benefits.
“We were able to gain greater media exposure for the Tall Blacks and increased brand awareness for Burger King so it was a win-win situation.”
Post World Champs Burger King signed on to support the national team for a further three years. Next project were the struggling Breakers. Founded in 2003, the Breakers were floundering when the Joneses got involved a couple of years later, around the same time as Liz and Paul Blackwell took ownership. The rest is history as the Breakers have gone from strength to strength in the intervening years. A former Board member, Dennis and Marjean have invested in the Breakers every year since.
In 2018 the couple were recognized with a Star Award at the Basketball New Zealand Awards ceremony. The award acknowledges influential members of the wider basketball community who have played a big part in supporting our game.