Flames double headers bring back memories for club great
For current Brydens Sydney Uni Flames assistant coach and Australian basketball great Shelley Gorman, the news of double headers returning to the Hoops Capital brought back a flood of memories.
Gorman was a crucial part of the Flames playing roster when basketball was setting Sydney alight in the early 90s and the Flames played on the same bill with their male counterparts, the Kings.
With the announcement of the 2021-22 WNBL season fixture earlier this week it was confirmed the Flames would again play double headers with the Brydens Lawyers Sydney Kings, this time on the biggest stage in Australian basketball at Qudos Bank Arena.
The Flames’ season-opening game on December 5 against the UC Capitals will be the first of six double headers across the season and Gorman couldn’t be more excited.
“It was such a special time and we loved playing before the Kings,” she said.
“Way back then for women’s basketball it lifted the professionalism of our game and once we started playing, the fans started to come a bit earlier and started to support us.
“By the end of the season we had half the entertainment centre there and the energy and atmosphere for us was amazing. When we get together, all the players from back then, we all talk about how special it really was.”
It certainly was a special time, the Flames winning the WNBL title in that extraordinary period in 1993.
It’s a period club historian and respected NBL commentator Matt McQuade remembers well.
“What’s interesting is that when the Kings started the regular double headers at the old Kingdome back in 1991 when Mike (the late, former Kings owner Mike Wrublewski) brought the Flames under the club’s umbrella, the women’s team was really an afterthought because they weren’t that successful. Fans just weren’t that into them in the same way they would be in later years,” McQuade remembers.
“But in 1993, Mike went all out on a recruiting drive that turned the Flames into both a powerhouse and must-watch viewing. He brought in Carrie Graf as the head coach, and then recruited two key members of the Australian national team – Robyn Maher and Shelly Gorman – who changed everything.
“That was a great Flames team in 1993. Of course, the Kings had that ill-fated and disastrous season that same year, so the fact the organisation was able to at least put out a terrific product on the women’s side was serendipity.
“Things were so bad with the men’s team and so good with the women in ’93 that the half-joke in the stands used to be that that the Kings should be the warm-up act and the Flames the main event. That came about because the Flames won 17 straight games, while the Kings were in the beginning of the ‘Violet Crumble’ period.
“What was so memorable about that 1993 campaign was the WNBL Grand Final at the Kingdome. Usually, you’d see around 4000 or so for the first game of the double header as fans would have dinner or drinks around the Darling Harbour precinct before coming to the Kings’ game. But not that night. There were more than 7000 screaming fans in the building watching the Flames win the club’s first championship in a thriller over Perth.”
For this young, new-look Flames outfit under the tutelage of Gorman and head coach and former King great Shane Heal, it’s an opportunity to showcase women’s basketball to the city.
“I’m really excited about what this means for our girls now and it’s just another step forward for our professionalism as a team,” Gorman said.
“I’m loving being back involved with the team, being connected again, being connected to the Hoops Capital and for what our vision is as a club.”
The 2021-22 Flames team are: Shyla Heal, Lauren Mansfield, Keely Froling, Steph Watts, Bec Pizzey, Kiera Rowe, Kalani Purcell, Emma Mahady, Funda Nakkasoglu, Chyra Evans, Katie Deeble, Morgan Yaeger, Sherrie Calleia.
Membership packages have already gone on sale, and as part of a special offer this year all Flames junior members will go into the draw to be a part of a special coaching clinic with father-daughter combination Shane and Shyla Heal.