Perth Wildcats legend Andrew Vlahov admitted his surprise after a larger crowd turned up to the basketball at Perth Arena than the Australia-West Indies one-day international across town yesterday.
The Wildcats are experiencing a level of popularity not seen since the glory days of the 1990s and have regularly drawn crowds of more than 11,000 at the new inner-city venue this season.
The official crowd figure for yesterday’s game against Wollongong was 11,509, while 11,017 were on hand to watch the cricket across town at the WACA Ground.
Vlahov, who spent 11 years with the Wildcats and spent a few years as co-owner, has seen the club grow from strength to strength since being handing the reins to Jack Bendat in 2005.
But he never thought the Wildcats would draw a bigger crowd in a head-to-head battle with an international cricket match.
“Not in a million (years),” Vlahov said.
“Where the club has done its work in the community and had a genuine commitment to seeing people and kids has paid dividends.
“There’s a big lesson in that for other teams.
“We’ve set the example and set the bar now for a number of years with the level of professionalism with the club, but it’s our commitment to the community and that respect that we get back from the community that makes it such a special place.
“You go to the games and you see the army of red; it gives you tingles.
“And I can tell you that the guys down the other end of the floor are genuinely going ‘what are we going to lose by today?’”
The Wildcats nearly went bust a decade ago before Vlahov and Luc Longley turned the club around.
The club is back on its feet now and it appears only reigning champions New Zealand stand between the Wildcats and a record sixth title this season.
“Back when we just trying to hang in there and figure out the next step it was tough,” Vlahov said.
“I lost a lot of sleep and myself and Luc and Mack Hall, we all did the hard yards in that little era.
“But at the end of the day it was just a phase that most clubs probably go through.
“The storm is quietest just before it hits and now it’s hitting.”