Grant Chapman: NZ Breakers resurgence lures 'haters' (including me) back to bandwagon

OPINION: One of the most difficult things in life - and especially in sport - is to follow your instincts, with the world in your face, insisting you're wrong.

Almost as hard is conceding that unpopular course of action - the road less travelled - was perhaps the right one and you were wrong to so vehemently disapprove.

With that in mind, this is my NZ Breakers 'mea culpa'.

Last month, as part of Newshub's end-of-year review, I nominated the Auckland-based Aussie NBL club as my 'Flop of the Year'.

As it stripped away the last vestiges of a championship dynasty, new ownership had staggered from one questionable decision to another - on and off the court - over the past couple of years.

Mostly recently, it had…

  • Recruited a player with a dodgy offcourt record, who was promptly arrested for assault and then again for breaching parole, and ultimately released from his contract.
  • Extended the contract of a coach with a 4-10 record and seemingly little chance of producing a run at the playoffs.
  • Released star shooter Corey Webster to play in China, surely the ultimate concession that a serious title shot was beyond them.

At the time, teenage posterboy RJ Hampton was sidelined and his future with the club looked shaky.

"Don't be surprised if Hampton never plays for the Breakers again," I speculated. "If his hip injury is anywhere near as troublesome as the one that plagued teammate Corey Webster for two years, his minders will surely not risk his multi-million-dollar NBA draft prospects to play out a losing season."

Part of my frustration, I guess, was seeing so many of the old guard - many of them friends or former colleagues in a previous career - unceremoniously dumped along the way. Maybe I took that too personally. 

Maybe the time is right to start celebrating those who are still around, fighting to right the ship.

Fired-up Facebook forums have helped stoke the flames of discontent, but they've been relatively silent over the past two weeks, as the Breakers reeled off an incredible five-game winning streak that included four straight on the road.

Their latest triumph over South East Melbourne Phoenix followed an emotional week, when beloved manager Fata Letoa tragically died, and despite losing point guard Sek Henry to injury in the opening quarter.

That result made them the hottest team in the league and their next outing pits them against Cairns Taipans - the next hottest with four straight victories - on Thursday.

Oh, and Hampton returned to play a key role off the bench in the absence of Henry and reserve guard Jarrad Weeks.

A key to their sudden revival has been the return of American forward Scotty Hopson, and Tall Blacks Rob Loe and Finn Delany from injury. 

Based on pre-season performances, Hopson was billed as a potential star, but suffered a knee injury that kept him out of seven games. He is back to his dominant best, averaging 23.8 points off 56 percent shooting over the five wins.

Loe's eight-game concussion absence left his team sorely undermanned at the centre spot for almost two months, while Delany missed the first eight games of the season with a lingering ankle complaint. 

The change in personnel has also given captain Tom Abercrombie more license to operate - he and Delany have averaged 13.6 points each during the run.

A month ago, the skipper looked a broken man. On Sunday, he dropped 24 points on the Phoenix, while Delany converted the three-pointer that sealed victory.

In Hampton's absence, coach Dan Shamir has put the team in Henry's hands and the former Israeli League MVP has responded with assurance. Hopefully, that won't change with the teen's return.  

This resurgence has carried the Breakers to nine wins-10 losses for the season, still two games out of the fourth spot currently held by the Taipans. A win on Thursday would be huge for their playoff hopes.

Whether they can maintain their form to reach the semi-finals remains to be seen, but even if they can't, they've certainly earned a little leeway on their long-term vision.

If nothing else, the Breakers have overcome considerable adversity - some of it self-imposed, admittedly - to fulfill their #unbreakable mantra.

I still feel sad for those stalwarts who have gone, but professional sport is business and sometimes change is needed to reboot the programme. 

So, as the New Year dawns - and at the risk of becoming a bandwagon jumper (or worse, jinxing them back into a losing funk) - I hereby resolve to stop being a 'hater' (as Webster would say) and take a more positive attitude towards this version of the Breakers.

#Unbreakable indeed

Grant Chapman is Newshub online sports editor