By Murray McKinnon
The SKYCITY Breakers celebrated another successful season in the Australian National Basketball League with their annual awards dinner at SKYCITY Convention Centre last Friday. The most successful of any New Zealand sporting franchise playing in a trans-Tasman competition, the Breakers reflected on a year in which they finished the regular season in fourth place and went on to play in their fifth grand final series in the past six years.
It was a night of reflection as the club said farewell to foundation administrator and current CEO Richard Clarke and Head Coach Dean Vickerman, with 13 and 9 years’ service respectively.
Both were afforded worthy and emotional tributes from players, colleagues and coaches. Vickerman in his stirring farewell speech spoke of being an Aussie and being accepted instantly as a Kiwi and for his respect for owners Paul and Liz Blackwell.
“I’d like to thank Paul and Liz Blackwell. They have been absolutely amazing they just help you with your decisions in life. They are parents of the largest family and the most diverse and growing family in New Zealand, the SKYCITY Breakers, they impact for the better every day. We talk about it as being the greatest ownership in pro sports and to me you’re the greatest parents in sport.”
He then went on and paid tribute to Richard Clarke.
“The next person I want to thank is Richard Clarke. He challenged me every day about the processes of how we did things and how I did things. He never let me look too far ahead, that was the job of Mike Fitchett to make sure that he was looking ahead for me. But Richard always challenged me with the ‘why’ and there was a great place that we got to in our relationship was about the ‘why’. And for ever as a coach I take away from our relationship will be have a self- assessment and I’ll always judge myself about how well I’m coaching and the ‘why’.”
Vickerman then reflected on the past season.
“To the playing group and the wives and partners thank you for your commitment to the vision that we had as a team for the amazing roller coaster ride that we went on this year and you took me on and you took everybody else on. It started with Corey being in the NBA and then went to Melbourne where there was an absolute debacle of a referring decision. We had a great home stretch going on where we just felt a little invincible at home.”
“We had Breaker babies and then the announcement of Richard and myself and some of the leadership moving on. We went through a losing streak and then we played just an amazing game of basketball in Adelaide when we needed to. We make the playoffs we go ahead and sweep the number one seed in the comp and then we challenged for another championship under trying conditions. It was a difficult time to go and try and win that third game in Perth, but we never made any excuses and they never made any excuses and we gave it everything we had.”
Vickerman touched on the losing streak that the Breakers endured.
“On Wednesday I went out and sat with Andrew McFadden from the Warriors and we created a bit of a relationship over the last couple of years and we sat there and talked about how do you get out of that losing streak, how do you win when you are in it. We talked about the tough times of what you went through with the injuries and different things but most of all it was about everybody just changing a little bit. Everybody just stepping up their leadership and that’s how we got out of it, everybody just stepped up a little bit more, took ownership of what they did as a player and then the leaders could just go and play and play freely and do the thing they do best for the team. So I want to thank everyone of the playing group and the support staff and the office staff for that, to get out of that hole and to go and win eight out of the last ten games and give ourselves a chance to win the championship was pretty special.”
On being accepted into New Zealand.
“When we moved to another country or join any team one of the first things you want is an acceptance. When we moved to New Zealand it is was easy for me to be accepted as I knew a few people who I had competed against, but to have our family just so accepted by the Breakers’ family was unbelievable and a memory that we will have of the Breakers. But one of the memories as a family that we will take away was in Melbourne the whole playing group, support staff and everyone who was in Melbourne had gone and practiced a Haka and I thank Paul Henare for organising it. And to sit there when they did the Haka you felt unbelievable acceptance in the New Zealand culture and great respect for it to have that Haka presented to you and to your family in the spirit that they did it and how well they did it was just a great memory.”
On deciding to leave.
“To move on was something in the back of my mind. To say yep I’m an Aussie in New Zealand and as much as I was accepted and some people call me somewhere in the middle between an Aussie and a Kiwi, but I was always an Aussie and it was always part of my role to be here and when I took the job in that three years I really said I want to get this done and give it all my energy for three years and do the best I can, but I want to leave it to a Kiwi and to now have Paul Henare take over and succeed as head coach, have Judd Flavell move up to assistant coach and have Mike Fitchett move up to the next assistant coach role, I’ve walked away unbelievably satisfied with what I’ve been able to achieve in helping to develop those guys to take on this role and to have Kiwis own this team for the next period of time.”