Manchester Giants (1989–2001)
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|League||British Basketball League|
|Location||Manchester, Greater Manchester|
|Team colours||Dark Green, White and Black|
|Ownership||Montgomery Sports Ltd.|
Manchester Giants was a professional basketball team based in Manchester, England. During its existence, the team won the Trophy in 1999 and the BBL Championship in 2000. The tenure of American coach Nick Nurse, which included those two seasons, was the most successful period in the club's history. The franchise folded 9 games into the 2001–02 season.
A revival effort headed by former player and coach Jeff Jones to return the Giants name to the British Basketball League was put together in 2011. The bid was formally accepted on June 19, 2012, marking a return of the Giants and Manchester-based professional basketball for the first time in 11 years. The newly re-created Manchester Giants started playing in the 2012–13 season.
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The original Manchester Giants were based in Sale, developing out of Stretford Basketball Club and were sponsored for many years by ATS. They were the first northern team to challenge the southern dominance of the early national league years, becoming league runners up in 1976-7. Home grown talent at this time include Steve Latham, Dick Powell, Ken Walton and John Nono. Amongst the US stars to play for the Giants was Jeff Jones, who took to the court for the first time in that 1976 season and regularly netted over 400 points, after a successful college career at BNC Oklahoma. He quickly set about developing junior talent in the area. At that time Giants were the second best attended club in the league, averaging 550 people a game in the cramped Sale venue. Other early imports included Vince Lackner, Mark Badger, John Miller and Steve Irion. Outgrowing Sale Leisure Centre, the club moved first to Stretford and then to Altrincham Leisure Centre where they had many successful years. Other notable imports over the years included Vince Brookings and a certain Craig Robinson (brother of US First Lady Michelle Obama!).
Manchester United wanted to develop the continental idea of sporting clubs and to set up a dominant basketball club. The United side failed to attract fans in large numbers and so, despite strong opposition from their fans, the Giants were "merged" with them.
Stockport Belgrade were based at Peel Moat in Heaton Moor, they were created in 1975 and had, in Bill Beswick, one of the best coaches in the history of the sport in the UK.
After finishing second in Division 2 that inaugural season, Coach Beswick led Belgrade to promotion in 1977, compiling an impressive 18–2 record in the process, the best in franchise history. Amongst their US players they had Bob Martin, one of the best shooting guards ever to play in the league who once scored 52 points in a losing game against ATS Giants.
The next four years proved to be a period of consolidation for the team in the top division of British basketball with a first trip into Europe, in the Korac Cup, part of that learning curve.
But by the 1981–82 season, the Stockport club took the decision to move away from their fan base to the new Spectrum Arena in Warrington. During the 1982–83 season, Coach Beswick left the club, replaced on an interim basis by Craig Lynch, who was still prominent in the Budweiser League in the late 1990s as coach of the Newcastle Eagles. But it was the arrival of Joe Whelton at the start of the following season that proved the turning point in the team's history. With players like Jones, Wil Brown, Ed Bona, Steve Latham, Phil Brazil, Paul Gervais, David Lloyd; an assistant on the 1997–98 team – and Kevin Penny, the team finished third in the League and lost the Championship Final 70–64 to Solent.
Halfway through the following season, another major turning point occurred in the Viking's eventful history when Manchester United bought the team. Coach Whelton also played a part in Manchester's sudden upturn in fortunes, making the shrewd signing of Colin Irish who was brilliant in the 1985 Championship Final win over Kingston, scoring 47 points in a 109–97 victory. Manchester United then took control of the other Manchester Club the Giants. Players of the calibre of Tom Brown and Dave Gardner, who started the 1998–99 season as an assistant to Coach Nurse, were added to the roster for the start of the 1985–86 season in which a club record 23 straight wins helped Manchester United recover from a shaky start to storm to the National League title and the professional era.
The supporters of the Giants set up Stockport Giants, an all English club, who played successfully for four years winning the English Central League, the North West Counties League before securing a place in the lower divisions of the National League, and reaching the National League cup quarter finals.
Two barren seasons followed the United title win and the United experiment having failed, the franchise was bought by a group of local businessmen in 1988, who changed the team name to the Manchester Eagles. Jeff Jones returned to coach the team, the start of a reign (1988–94) that would make him the longest-serving coaching in franchise history.
Coach Jones finished fifth in his first season as well as taking the team to the National Cup Final where they lost 87–75 to Bracknell.
A year later, he led Manchester to a second placed finish in the League and the Final of the Trophy. On both occasions, the all-conquering Kingston team edged out Manchester.
That 1989–90 team included memorable players such as Jason Fogerty, Tony Penny, Jerry Johnson, Dave Gardner, Kris Kearney, Keith Ramsey and Kevin St. Kitts—the last four of whom are among the dozen players to have hit 1,000 career points for the franchise over the past 14 years.
By that season Manchester and Stockport Giants merged again, although, apart from another Trophy Final defeat by Kingston in 1991, the new name did not appear to bring any new luck with it.
By 1993, the Giants had been purchased by Cook Group Inc, an American medical devices company, at the start of another exciting new chapter in the team's history. There were moves to the Armitage Centre, the new Velodrome and, most significant of all, to the Manchester Evening News Arena for the start of the 1995–96 season.
There was a great influx of American talent due to new league rules and the club utilised its American ties through the Cook Group to bring in Indiana University graduates Joe Hillman and Mark Robinson as well as ex-NBA players such as Robert Churchwell and Brian Rowsom in the 1997–98 season.
The new owners were putting together a new look team and brought in respected US college coach Mike Hanks for the start of the 1994–95 season. Although they only finished fourth and fifth in Coach Hanks' two seasons, the Giants were Play-off runners-up, losing the Wembley Championship Final to Worthing by a narrow 77–73 score line.
However, the Giants did make it into the record books in their first year at the Arena when they attracted an amazing 14,251 fans to their season opener against the London Leopards – still the biggest crowd to ever watch a basketball match in Britain. By the end of that season, Coach Hanks was out and the coach with the most successful record in club history was back—Joe Whelton. Unfortunately, he could not recapture the success of yesteryear in his one season and made way for Jim Brandon in 1997–98. However, he too found the task difficult although there was the consolation of a spirited end to the season and a run to the Wembley Championships where the Giants put up a good performance before losing their semi-final with Birmingham 91–80.
Brandon did win his final game as Giants' head coach as they defeated London in the third-place game—more significantly Brandon started an all-English team (Matt Hogarth, Michael Bernard, Jason Swaine, Danny Craven and Ronnie Baker).
The start of the 1998–99 season saw the beginning of an exciting new era for the Manchester Giants, one of the biggest names in the history of British basketball.
After several disappointing years in which the Giants struggled to live up to the expectations of their huge support, Nick Nurse was brought back to British basketball to try and end the team's 12-year wait for a trophy. It worked as the Giants claimed the inaugural Dairylea Dunkers Championship and Northern Conference title in 2000, plus the 1999 uni-ball Trophy championship. Manchester won 87 of its 106 games in the last two seasons, winning a BBL record 45 in 1999–2000.
American Nurse, who coached the Birmingham Bullets to the Wembley Championship two years earlier, had also made his mark in European basketball with top Belgian team Oostende before taking the helm at the new-look Giants. Nurse's brief was simple – restore the Manchester Giants to their winning ways and reward their thousands of loyal fans by taking them to the top of the table. Coach Nurse wasted no time in shooting for that goal and quickly assembled a star-studded cast of proven Budweiser League players. He moved to secure the services of Tony Dorsey whom he had coached in his Birmingham days, before looking south to sign Greater London Leopards' pair John White and Makeba Perry, who had been with the Giants two seasons earlier, along with Thames Valley Tigers' Tony Holley. White, Dorsey and Holley had all been selected to the end of season All-Star team and played in the League All-Star Games, while Dorsey (1995–96) and White (1996–97) also came to Manchester with League MVP awards to their names. Dorsey and White would both be selected to the end of season All-Star team in 1998–99.
Nurse had the players in place and the season got off to a roaring start with the Giants at the top of the table within the opening months, a major improvement over recent seasons. He has continued this run of success with a franchise-record 45–7 win-loss record, winning the inaugural Dairylea Dunkers Northern Conference Championship, reaching the National Cup, uni-ball Trophy and Dairylea Dunkers championship games in 1999–2000. Only Kingston (1990, 1992) and London Towers (1996) have reached all three championship games in the same BBL season.
The team were stunned soon after celebrating its championship when a senior director representing ownership informed the team and management Cook Group could no longer afford to fund the Giants.
With no owner and failure to offset the high cost of renting the Manchester Evening News Arena by gate receipts forced the team to return to their former home of the National Cycling Centre, otherwise known as Manchester Velodrome, towards the end of the 2000/01 season. In the 2001/02 season, all home games were played at the Eastlands venue. Whilst the arena was more flexible and cheaper to hire, it lacked the customer facilities of the MEN Arena and stood alone in the wastelands of East Manchester, next to the land which would later see the City of Manchester Stadium built. The lack of attractions in the area or public transport connections to it ultimately put the seal on the demise of the franchise.
The franchise went through an abortive rebirth in the hands of the Montgomery Sports Group, creators of the Sheffield Sharks, before backing failed to surface and the franchise was ignominiously 'deleted' in 2001 by its ultimate owners, the BBL – leaving the second largest urban area in the UK with no representation in the league. The team actually played 9 games of the 2001–02 season before folding, finishing with a 2–7 record.
- Anthony Jepson (2011). "Manchester Magic plan new outlook as BBL arrival looms". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 2011-09-23.
- Anthony Jepson (2011). "Manchester Giants striding back for second coming". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 2011-12-29.
- Anthony Jepson (2011). "Manchester Giants confirm return to BBL". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
- "Manchester Giants and East London Royals join BBL". HoopsFix.com. 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-19.