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FBBL Tips, News and Opinion

Dedicated to fans of the BBL. Tips for selecting your FBBL squad, new signings and re-signed player opinions. News and reviews from around the BBL

Flashback – Alan Cunningham

Flashbacks Posted on Sun, July 29, 2018 08:49:03

The Cunningham Effect

It’s pitch black. The buzz of the crowd is growing, along with the overwhelming anticipation of what is about to happen. The slow methodical rumble from both the stamping feet of the packed arena and A Space Oddessy 2001 soundtrack booming from the PA, is deafening. As the music builds, so to does the noise from the crowd. Two beams of light appear from high in the arena. They shine down from their source, opening out to a single spot light that covers the center cirlce in the middle of the court perfectly. The music builds to a climax and the home town players introductions are about to follow from the very fired up and charismatic announcer. It seems a little pointless in a way, as the sold out crowd is drowning out his every word. But you can hear his excitement even though his voice is just a murmur, lost in the now thumping intro beat. The spot lights move, and split off into separate areas, one on the free throw line and one hovering near the home teams bench. A player is announced. Impossible to hear who, but the spotlight picks up the player instantly. There is no mistaking who it is. His 6ft 10 frame seems incorrect as the intense build up and amped up atmosphere makes him appear 7ft 2. His arms are spread wide, as if mimicking a airplane about to attempt a fly by. No sooner had the spot light found him, and the baing crowd identified him with an appreciative roar, then he was off to the races. Sprinting, with the spotlight barely able to keep up, he holds both arms outstretched to the right of his body and the expectant front two rows lean in as he completes a full lap of the courtside fans, high fiving anyone and everyone he can reach. The rest of the team are announced, each with a roar of approval as high as the last. As if perfectly choreographed, he arrives back to the second spotlight as the last name is announced and high fives the entire squad. They go into a huddle as the arena lights come up, at which point the crowd knows it’s game time and they are in for a treat.

The player that generated such an atmosphere and response was of course, former Harlem Globetrotter, Alan Cunningham. If it is suggested that Alton Byrd is the Magic Johnson of British basketball, then Alan Cunningham is certainly Bill Russell. Countless BBL league and playoff titles, as well as cup and trophy wins. He was an integral part of the famous Kingston Kings and their domination of the BBL in the late 80’s and early 90’s and if that wasn’t enough, he then took his talents to Worthing and helped the Bears dominate for a further three years, winning the playoffs with each outing. The third consecutive playoff win came in particularly Bill Russell fashion. At the end of Russell’s playing career, his Boston Celtics qualified for the the NBA Playoffs in the lowly fourth seed, and despite not having home court advantage in the final, beat the Lakers in a seven game series, even though fans and critics had written off the Celtics early. Alan Cunningham and the Bears finished the regular season in 7th and like Russell’s Celtics, the Bears were considered over the hill and past it, having only just qualified for a post season spot. However, they eased into the finals and held off the Giants for their third consecutive Championship.

Cunningham’s professional career in the BBL was impressive. His influence on the court has been unparalleled, perhaps until recent seasons and Fab Flournoys current role on the Eagles. What is perhaps more impressive is Cunningham’s continued career into the NBL as player coach of Solent. In the late 90’s he led the team to a third division championship and a second division title. He retired on top in 2000, after scoring 38 points in a friendly game for a Portsmouth Pirates select team against a squad from the University of Gettysburg, USA. His retirement did not last long. Coming back to Solent in 2001-02 for one final season and finished his career on the court, with the ball in his hand as the buzzer went, in a playoff final having scored 29 and in a double overtime loss.

There’s no question that wherever Cunningham took his talents, silverware would surely follow. In many cases the results were instant and fans and supporters that were lucky enough to have seen him play at any point in his career, will have fond memories and without a doubt, will have been entertained.

Flashback – Alton Byrd

Flashbacks Posted on Sun, July 29, 2018 08:44:17

Fact checking and cross checking stats of classic BBL players is by no means an easy task. As such, it would seem that a number of players from the past seem to be somewhat forgotten and remain only in folklore and legend among people that once saw them grace the hardwood of a BBL court. However, without this particular player the shape of British basketball could be very different. The stats and information you can uncover about Byrd are available on Wikipedia and various websites that pay homage to the classic teams he played for and led to victory. Teams such as Crystal Palace, Livingston, (Murrey International), Manchester and Kingston are all teams that still hold very high regard for Byrd and those fortunate enough to have seen him play have fond memories of successful seasons. Byrd was exceptional on the court and his performances legendary, but it was perhaps his performances off the court that had a greater impact on the British game. If there was a televised game, live from the Royal Albert Hall or Wembley Areana and Byrds team were not playing, he would be in the studio, commentating and offering his expert opinions and charasmatic positive attitude to the sport we all know and love. He began to create a persona off the court of a very approachable, yet driven individual, hell bent on publicising basketball, generating new fans and raising awareness of the game in general, both British and across the pond in the NBA. He approached the BBC with a strategy of bringing American sports footage and debate to the UK audience and was given a radio show on BBC 5 Live covering all American sports being played in their native home and the UK counterpart. He then became the UK’s face of the NBA, where he hosted the weekly show, NBA Jam Session, which featured a “Marquee Matchup” game of the week as well as the NBA’s “Courtside Countdown” a top ten plays from that week. It also included BBL news and footage, making the game more accessable to the UK market. I myself was a regular viewer, watching once a week with eager intent and anticipation of the weekly match ups or highlight reels from the NBA and the BBL. Alton Byrd became a household name to anyone in the late 80’s or early 90’s that was of fan of basketball.

My father once saw Alton at Ponds Forge Sports Complex, Sheffield, at a none basketball event, surrounded by autograph hunters and readily accepting the attention and admiration. A rare sight for a professional BBL player, even by todays standards. Such was Altons charisma and distinctive appearance on and off the basketball court.

On the court his record speaks for itself. He was part of one of the most successful teams in NBL history, Crystal Palace, as well as one of the best teams in BBL history, Kingston. He spearheaded the offences of every team he played for, with exceptional court vision and the ability to find an open man with his amazing passing. He was named the player of the season consecutively in 1991 and 1992, and led the league in assists whilst leading Kingston to 13 trophies in a 5 year span.

Alton Byrd is clearly one of the greatest players in BBL history. His massive career assists statistic of 1,188 assists in 152 games is more than just a benchmark in the BBL. His contribution and influence on the British game can only be compared with someone like Magic Johnson and his effect on the NBA. Although not similar in stature, both players are similar in charisma and potentially the saviours of their respective basketball leagues. Although arguably it was Byrd that initiated the popularity in British basketball, rather than Magic Johnson reviving the NBA’s popularity. Without Alton Byrd it could be speculated that the BBL’s continued popularity and consistent fan base would not be what it is today, without his off court efforts and on court excellence.

With modern day point guards proving their worth in the NBA and BBL, there still rarely comes such an impact from such a small player. When there does, there is something of a media storm surrounding them. Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics is having such an impact in the NBA currently, listed at 5ft 9, which ironically was Alton Byrds listed height in College. The closest comparison to Byrd currently in the BBL would perhaps be someone like Rahmon Fletcher. Fletcher has only been in the league since 2014, but his impact has been immediate. The Newcastle Eagles completed a Quadruple, league, playoffs, cup and trophy wins in Fletcher’s first season, as well as winning silverware every season since his arrival. Plus he has already been named the Molten Player of the Season back to back, in the last two years, a feat the Byrd himself achieved in the early 90’s. Fletcher is listed at 5ft 10, and has incredible ball handling, distribution and court vision. He was second in the league last season in scoring, but like Byrd, Fletcher led the league in Assists.

Alton Byrd currently works as the Vice President of Business Operations for the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA, and their G-League team, the Long Island Nets. It could have been the perfect end to the story had Alton remained in the UK and coached for longer, and maybe even ran his own team in the BBL. The continued dedication to his sport would have only raised the profile of basketball more, but to what extent, we can only speculate. A true great of the British game.