“Growing up in the Virgin Islands, I was told that I could never be a basketball player,” said Leon Trimmingham, Sydney Kings basketball legend. It is this kind of negative message that a new partnership between Sydney Kings and the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) seeks to challenge by opening doorways for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to pursue their dreams.
Despite what “Neon Leon” was told, the boy from the small island followed his dream and became a professional basketball player for 14 years, having just recently been named in the Kings’ 25th anniversary team. “Dreams do exist,” Leon said. “I’m a living example that dreams exist.”
Under the partnership, made official on October 15, Sydney Kings players train regularly at NCIE’s extensive sporting facilities. Players also help run local school clinics, holiday programs and afterschool programs where they assist children with reading and homework before going out on court to teach them basketball.
The benefits of sport are both physical and emotional. “When someone’s playing sport, they can’t be out getting in trouble,” said NCIE General Manager, Rohan Tobler. “[Sport is good for] health, fitness, lifestyle, getting outdoors, exercising … but it also teaches structure, responsibility, commitment and sometimes, competitive edge.”
More than that, the partnership is about sharing Aboriginal culture with the Sydney Kings to enable them to best cater to any future Aboriginal basketball stars.
Sydney Kings Administration Manager, Lorraine Landon, welcomed the prospect of having an Aboriginal person playing in their top-10 team. In laying out the career pathway, she said, “It’s important that we understand the culture. It’s not one-size-fits-all. So it is about making sure we understand what’s important to them, how they’re thinking, and allow them to grow at their pace rather than pushing them into something when they’re not ready,” she said.
Rohan Tobler recognised the difficulties faced by young Aboriginal athletes when having to leave family structures to pursue professional sporting careers. “Part of the partnership is about being able to educate the Kings on [Aboriginal culture],” he said. “Together, as partners, we can only strengthen, not just for Indigenous Australians but for all Australians.”
Leon, Rohan and Lorraine all agreed there is a real opportunity for an NCIE kid to become a professional player. But, with the understanding that professional sport is not everyone’s destiny, the dream goes beyond basketball with the broader aim of encouraging kids to make the most of their talents.
“We try to give them a well-rounded experience that shows them that sport is not always the answer,” Rohan said. “Indigenous Australians tend to push towards sports because that’s where most of our role models lie. But the possibility for kids to become a carpenter or a doctor is a lot higher than becoming a professional sportsman if they’re committed. It’s about getting them exposure to different things, showing them what’s out there, how to get fulfilment in life and how to make a living.”
Sydney Kings and NCIE ran a 3on3 basketball tournament for 12-17 year olds on November 2. The finals will be played at the Sydney Kings home game against the Cairns Taipans on November 8 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre.
Published in the South Sydney Herald, p. 16, November 2013.