As the Perth Wildcats glared into a glittering new era at Perth Arena, former player and coach Alan Black feared the venue would suffocate them with space.
Black had taken the Wildcats to the Australian pinnacle of the sport by leading them to the 2000 National Basketball League championship. But he admitted yesterday he could not have seen in his wildest visions the NBL powerhouse the club has become.
The Wildcats will chase a record sixth championship tonight in Adelaide, leading 1-0 in a best-of-three grand final series.
"I was one of those people who were worried that the move from Challenge Stadium to a 14,000-seat stadium could be the death of them," Black, a performance director at WAIS, said. "Even if you put 5000 people, which would have been a decent crowd for basketball at that time, into a 14,000-seat stadium, it looks terrible.
"It could have been the end of the Wildcats, to be honest. But they had a vision and really chased it and marketed it well. Then the venue, being such a great venue, did the rest.
"The Red Army thing gives me goosebumps. The atmosphere flows into the streets and doesn't stop at the end of the game. It's had its ups and downs for me, but you feel like you've been a little part of something that's been pretty special and I'm very proud of where they're at now."
Black's first year as a Wildcats player was in 1986, the last time they did not make the play-offs.
"In '86 we were at Perry Lakes Stadium and it had one of the best courts you could ever want to play and train on," he recalled.
"But the change rooms were stuck under the grandstand seats and the showers were there with everyone else using the stadium . . . you went to the loo with Joe Public. In fact, if you were waiting outside the change rooms after a game, everyone would be walking past and offering advice.
"I think we won only six games that year, so that advice was regularly forthcoming. The crowds weren't great, there was no entertainment value and it was a tough year."
Black had come to Perth from the Nunawading Spectres, then a household name in basketball, while the Wildcats had never made the play-offs. But with high-profile recruits Cal Bruton, James Crawford and "Tiny" Pinder, the club made the grand final the following year and have not missed a play-off series since.
"It is just staggering that there hasn't been a single year among all of those years that they've fallen off the pace," Black said.
"Clearly, they've had a series of very talented players and a lot of loyalty from people who have stayed in the program and there haven't been many times when they've had to do clean sweeps and start again. And when they have, they've had the resources to do it relatively well."