Rise of the Aussie playmaker

Chris Appleby (right) with cameraman Wayne McPherson. (Chris Appleby) 240607_03

By Oliver Lees

From a production company in Kyneton, a new documentary that traces the legacy of American influence on Australian men’s basketball is set to be released later this year.

Producer Chris Appleby said it was a single game that convinced him of the need to create this project, entitled Imported.

“It all came to a head when team USA came to Australia for those exhibition games at Marvel Stadium,” Appleby said.

“After we beat them in the second game, I suddenly thought to myself, how did we get to this point where we can beat them at their own game?”

Appleby sat in the crowd as one of more than 52,000 people packed into Marvel Stadium to watch Boomers guard Patty Mills lead the team to a historic four point victory.

That day, August 29, 2019, was the first time the Boomers had beaten the United States, a history of more than 50 years of defeat.

With a lifetime involved in basketball, Appleby has been able to draw on a long list of contacts to bring his idea to life.

Appleby had his own brief professional career in the late 1980s, developing his skills at the Australian Institute of Sport before playing two seasons for the now defunct NBL side the Canberra Cannons.

He then went on to build a career in sports journalism, working for basketball magazines Australian Basketball and ONE on ONE, before landing a job at the Herald Sun in the 90s.

He also worked in the US, covering the NBA for the New York Post and producing content for the Miami Heat pregame show.

Appleby said the 80s and the 90s were the crucial periods that built the foundation of Australian basketball, and is therefore the focus of the documentary.

“The 80s was a rocking time for the NBL, the Americans started to come over and were real show-stoppers.” he said.

“But it was the 1990s when the game really took off. I think about when the Boomers played the USA in a warm up match before the 1996 Olympics. That ‘96 team was on the cusp of greatness.

“Shane Heal was on fire, I don’t think the Americans realised he had such deep range.

“He and Charles Barkely came together at one point, and Shane didn’t take too kindly to the treatment.

“It sent a message, that you might beat us, but we’ll go down swinging.”

Since Luc Longley became the first Australian player to be drafted to the NBA in 1991, 24 others have followed in his footsteps.

That includes seven Australian players in the current NBA season, a record number for Australian representation.

Appleby has interviewed many of Australia’s pioneering players and coaches for the documentary, including Heal, Longley, Andrew Gaze, Dave Simmons, Leonard Copeland and Andrew Bogut.

Appleby said the project shines a light on the stories that show how Australian basketball has developed.

“One that stood out to me was Brett Brown coaching Simmons in the NBL and then years later coaching his son, Ben, at the 76ers,” he said.

“I mean, really you can’t write this stuff.”

“To see a coach and a family connected across the NBL and the NBA is a perfect example of what this project is about.

“It’s really going to be a great document on what influence Americans have had on our players and coaches.”

The documentary will also look at how Australia has emerged as a destination for US basketball talent.

While travelling across the US in 2019 to film parts of the project, Appleby visited former Melbourne Tiger Daryl McDonald’s childhood home in New York.

McDonald, or D-Mac, was born in Harlem in New York City and made a reputation for himself playing on public courts.

After playing college basketball with the aim of reaching the NBA, D-Mac was recruited by Brown to play for the North Melbourne Giants in 1994.

McDonald went on to build a career in the NBL that spanned 14 years as a player and continues today as an assistant coach.

“Daryl McDonald is the most unique American talent to ever play here, and it just goes to show the incredible pathway Australia has become for Americans,” Appleby said.

“Playing in Australia saved his life, he grew up in a very tough area and it could have gone either way for him. His brother said he wasn’t allowed to play on the court on the next block because there was so much violence.

“Now he’s brought his entire family [to Australia] and has been here almost 30 years.”

Appleby said the legacy of the 80s and 90s has helped create a team that could challenge for a medal at the Olympics later this year.

“We should do really well, hopefully all our NBA talent will play,” he said.

“Australians are just getting bigger and better.”

Now with 90 per cent of production completed on Imported, Appleby has launched a crowdfunding campaign to get the project over the line.

Like many industries, Appleby’s Appstarmedia company has had its production capabilities hamstrung by COVID-19.

Appleby said if he can achieve his fundraising goal, he’ll look to premiere the two-part series in September.

For more information and to donate, visit: www.pozible.com/profile/imported-basketball-docu-series