Opinion: The Breakers are back and one man has driven it all

Success in sporting teams is often built on culture. Sure, talented, driven players are a must, but if those said players have no culture around them, that success will never be reached.

The Breakers may not have checked-in the NBL trophy for their flight home today, but they can return with the knowledge they’ve produced one of the great turnarounds in the competition’s history.

From the wooden spoon to within a quarter of winning the whole thing, it’s been a remarkable rise back to the top of Australasian basketball.

And a lot of it all falls back to one man.

Nothing was easy for the Breakers in the Covid-impacted years. Being away from home both literally and in a game sense, would be difficult for any team and any professional sportsperson. But even in those times, they looked lost.

There was no culture - that falls back on Dan Shamir.

The former Breakers coach was a difficult person to warm to; often coming across as cold, hiding from hard questions and real answers and uninspiring.

Going to Breakers training sessions [which were few and far between for obvious reasons] showed a sense of a lack of culture. From the outside, it looked like the players felt like they had no purpose in the team and no direction, while watching on the court looked like it was more an individual show for certain visitors.

Their basketball had no life, no pulse.

That has completely reversed under Mody Maor - a man who was alongside Shamir through those years.

From the day the person in charge changed, the mood at the Breakers changed with it.

A thoughtful, driven, passionate and very intelligent man, Maor went about changing the Breakers for the better; a warmer environment, a team-first attitude, belief in the players he had in the squad and a welcoming presence.

Of course, there were days where he could let players or media have it in some aspects, but it was never unjustified.

He, along with some help, recruited well. Barry Brown Jr, Jarrell Brantley, Derek Pardon and NBA Draft-bound Rayan Rupert all came with the right attitude and all lived and played in a way that drew them to the fans.

Breakers coach Mody Maor, centre, and his players watch the closing moments of their victory over the JackJumpers at Spark Arena.

There’s a moment in the post-game press conference after the Game Five defeat which will stick with me for a while, even while watching from afar.

While Maor was enlightening the press pack about the work that went into making Will McDowell-White a shooting sensation this season (spoiler alert – they spent an entire off-season together purely shooting basketballs to the point Maor joked they both got tendonitis in their elbows), import Brantley gatecrashed. His comments were genuine, impromptu and telling.

“That’s a good coach right there, man. That’s a special coach right there, man. He’s one of a kind. I’m sorry, I love you, man.”

It took Maor a moment to compose himself, while taking in the moment.

That’s culture - the culture built by Maor. A raw, unscripted and emotional few seconds, but with more love and meaning than ever seen (publicly at least) under Shamir’s reign.

They didn’t win the title, but they got awfully close. And this Breakers team should still be celebrated by their fans and wider in New Zealand sport.

They are back. And with another season under Mody Maor, 2023/24 may just be their year.


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