The greatest sporting story since Leicester City?

In their very first season, the National Basketball League’s newest team – the Tasmania JackJumpers – not only got off to a flying start, they silenced all fans, haters, players and pundits alike to qualify for the final – a frankly incredible achievement for a club. which had five staff, no stadium and no players this time last year.

If the old-fashioned NBL underdogs – tactically assembled like Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s – win their next three games, they will be Australia’s sporting version of Leicester City. That’s a huge “if” considering they’re trailing 2-0 in a five-game series against the almighty Sydney Kings, blessed with recent NBA talent and partly owned by Andrew Bogut.

But the colloquially nicknamed ‘Junkyard Jackies’ have consistently upset the odds in their debut season, ending the 35-year-old Perth Wildcat final and ruining Melbourne United’s silverware dreams: the two in l space of a fortnight crazy days.

Josh Adams flies high en route to victory against United. Source: Tasmania JackJumpers Facebook

Like Leicester City in 2015/16, every bridge in front of the Jack Jumpers seemed like a bridge too far, until they conquered one after another, taking an entire state with them on the journey.

It’s already a Cinderella story that should put the AFL heavyweights to shame. If basketball can thrive on Apple Island, then surely football can too? Apparently not yet, according to league CEO Gillon McLachlan.

With an entrepreneurial touch from a bold leader, a passionate fan base and the right people in key positions, this team has proven that anything is possible for Tasmanian sports fans.

You are about to read the inside story of the Tasmanian Jack Jumpers: the David of your Goliath, the underdog of all underdogs and the rank underdog who captured the hearts of a state and the attention of a nation.

from zero

To understand the true extent of the JackJumpers’ success, it is imperative to assess their journey through a Covid lens.

Nothing has come easy for the JackJumpers. In fact, everything was difficult. Scratching, clawing and fighting is in their DNA. They had no other choice.

On 28 February 2020, the National Basketball League confirmed that a Tasmanian team would enter the competition for the 2021/22 season. The announcement gave 18 months to build a club from scratch and redevelop a dilapidated stadium.

The first three employees were CEO Simon Brookhouse, Managing Director of Commerce and Marketing Christine Finnegan and Managing Director of Operations Jorrick Chivers.

Both Brookhouse and Finnegan were based in Melbourne, while Chivers’ early work was done in his own garage in Hobart.

If he needed a printer, stationery, or a chair to sit on, he bought them himself. There was no corporate credit card and certainly no communal office. An organization that would soon be worth millions of dollars was – in its early days – just a guy in his garage spitting on a whiteboard.

As of October 1, 2020, the trio each worked 14-hour days for the franchise. Eight sponsors were signed up before even getting a player, 1,000 t-shirts were printed and 4,000 loyal Tasmanians signed up to become members of the foundation for $90 each. In return, they received a cap and a thank you.

There was a contest to decide the name of the club. Five names were shortlisted and each week one option was rejected, resulting in a month-long process. The JackJumper is a small ant native to Tasmania. It’s no longer deadly thanks to modern medicine, but it’s toxic. The name, which itself spouts an “us versus them” mantra, was a resounding winner.

From the name came a mascot that would travel across the state spreading the JackJumper message.

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Selection of a trainer

The JackJumpers had two candidates in mind to coach the inaugural team. Both fell in the water. To find the right person, they advertised on LinkedIn and hundreds of applications were submitted within 24 hours.

In early January, Brookhouse had his man: Scott Roth of the Perth Wildcats.

Roth, then 57, had played 160 NBA games and coached around the world. But the biggest challenge was getting him into Hobart before the borders closed in the middle of last summer.

Having already completed a total of four weeks of isolation in hotel quarantine in Sydney and then Perth, Roth beat the border closure by 90 minutes.

It was only recently that Roth was reunited with his wife, who was based in Florida, after 16 months apart.

Find 15 players

His job, with the help of a growing support staff, was to find 15 players to compete at the highest level. And they only had six weeks to do so before the start of pre-season. Wasting no time, they locked up 15 players in four weeks.

There were swings and misses – including a top Aussie playmaker – but ultimately they landed marquee player Will Magnay, who had spent the final weeks of the previous summer with Roth at the Wildcats and had previously played in the NBA with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Rival NBL teams knew they were coming, armed with a $2 million soft cap and the full backing of CEO Larry Kestelman. To protect themselves, they re-signed players ahead of time, leaving the JackJumpers with a tight pool of talent to choose from.

In their roster meetings, Chivers, Brookhouse and Roth prioritized character and resilience. They wanted players who would embrace Tasmania, help the community and grow the game on and off the pitch. The challenge was to entice players to live in Hobart, away from the bright lights of Melbourne and Sydney or the beaches of Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane.

Sam McDaniel (Melbourne United), Jack McVeigh (Adelaide 36ers) and eventual skipper and two-time NBL champion Clint Steindl (Perth Wildcats) were the main signings.

Covid was still taking its toll. Josh Magette flew from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Tokyo to Singapore to Sydney and then had to quarantine there for a fortnight before flying to Hobart.

Josh Adams left his fiancée behind and didn’t see her for another six months, while MiKyle McIntosh flew in from Canada on flights that cost the club $20,000 at the height of the pandemic.

To make them feel welcome, Finnegan’s business team provided players from daycares and elementary schools to send their kids to, food vouchers for local restaurants and anything else they needed to help them get away with it. Quickly install and engage with Tasmanians. If they were invited on the Spirit of Tasmania, they felt like royalty. Everything was designed to give newly signed players a sense of belonging.

As of mid-July 2021, Roth had a roster of 15 players. But expectations were low for the upcoming season. Very slow.

Tasmanian JackJumpers
Source: Tasmania JackJumpers Facebook

Down and out

Without a high performance centre, the JackJumpers settled at the Kingsborough Sports Centre, around 15 minutes south of Hobart.

Their first training game was on November 14 and they beat the Brisbane Bullets in extra time on December 3 in the opening weekend of the season.

Even after this win and the next, most pundits had them finishing last. At 2-6 things looked bleak.

But the brave JackJumpers fought on, winning four on the rebound to tie the ledger at 6-6.

Magnay’s season-ending knee injury forced Roth to rework the magnets once again. Surely they were made? Not even close.

Needing to win their final four and relying on the other teams to lose, the brave JackJumpers somehow pulled off a heist. In total, they’ve won 15 of their last 20 games to reach the playoffs ahead of the fancier Wildcats, who missed for the first time since 1986.

Even on the final lap, things were far from certain. The JackJumpers needed Perth to lose to Illawarra on Friday, to win themselves on Saturday, and on Sunday South East Melbourne side Phoenix needed to defeat Perth.

All three legs followed the path of the Tasmanian. Then the JackJumpers united in Game 3 of a best-of-three playoff series to book a date with the Sydney Kings.

Dodges Ferry Primary School brings children together through Tamasmania JackJumpers Facebook

It’s not the first time the odds have been against the Tasmanian JackJumpers on Wednesday night in Sydney, but the whole island is behind them. Even if they lose – as most pundits expect – no one can doubt what an incredible run it has been.

Or, if they upset the Kings in their turf and find a way back in the next two games, they’ll be the first NBL franchise in history to win the title 2-0.

There may still be a few chapters left to this fairy tale. And if not, the JackJumpers have firmly established themselves on the sports map.

the Tasmanian JackJumpers play the Sydney King’s at 7:30 p.m. tonight (May 11) in the third do-or-die game of the final series.

Helen L. Cuellar