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Perth Wildcats
Perth Wildcats

The Perth Wildcats are an Australian professional basketball team based in Perth, Western Australia. The Wildcats compete in the National Basketball League (NBL) and play their home games at RAC Arena, known colloquially as "The Jungle". Their sister team, the Perth Lynx, play in the Women's National Basketball League.[1]

After three years of strong lobbying to the NBL, the creation of a national basketball team in Perth finally occurred in 1982. The Westate Wildcats were established and played out of the 800-seat Perry Lakes Basketball Stadium. Interest in basketball steadily grew throughout the community and in 1984 the Westate Wildcats became the Perth Wildcats. The Wildcats have gone on to become the highest-drawing and most successful team in the league, having won NBL championships in 1990, 1991, 1995, 2000, 2010, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019, placing the team four ahead of Melbourne United, who has five championships. Since 1987, the Wildcats have made 33-straight post-season appearances, an accomplishment matched by no other professional sports team in Australia.

The Wildcats in Perth

The Wildcats are the city's only major professional basketball team and are one of Western Australia's major summer sport teams, along with the Perth Scorchers (cricket, Big Bash League), the Western Warriors (cricket, Sheffield Shield) and Perth Glory (soccer, A-League).[2] Wildcats players are active members of the Perth community, with the off-court structures aimed at making the players better people so that they could become better players cited as the biggest key to success. There are personal qualities demanded from owner Jack Bendat down through every rank of the organisation, and being a proactive part of community work, particularly through its InspiRED program, is pivotal. The public support for the Wildcats has been deemed remarkable, particularly the way fans have bought into the brand to create the "Red Army". The Wildcats' sturdy culture has long been built on a history of winning.[3] In 2009, after being on the brink of bankruptcy, Jack Bendat and then-chief executive officer Nick Marvin transformed the franchise, focusing on being family-friendly and engaging with children in Western Australia. From a zero-tolerance swearing policy to always making eye contact and acknowledging supporters, players have a 350-hour community engagement obligation, 200 hours above what the collective bargaining agreement requires. In 2009, instead of doing 20 school visits per year, the Wildcats started doing 100. This increased to 200 school visits in 2010, and the year after it rose again to 220. Under Marvin, the philosophy was: the more engaged the Wildcats were with the West Australian community, the more fans they accumulated. As a result, they are the most successful franchise in NBL history and one of the most competitive professional sporting teams in the world, with crowds at Perth Arena the best and unmatched in the NBL.[4]

The Wildcats have consistently enjoyed large home crowds since moving into Perth Arena in 2012, resulting in arguably the greatest home-court advantage in the NBL.[5] In January 2017, the Wildcats became the first NBL franchise to break the 10,000-member barrier.[6] As a result of their large fan base, known as the "Red Army", the Wildcats have set numerous record sell-out crowds at Perth Arena. A record crowd of 13,559 watched the Adelaide 36ers knock off the Wildcats 106–102 on 16 January 2015;[7] that was later bested on 14 January 2017 when 13,611 people watched the Wildcats once again lose to the 36ers, this time by a margin of 95–84.[8] A capacity crowd of 13,611 later attended Game 3 of the 2017 Grand Final series on 5 March 2017, matching the Wildcats' highest-attendance record.[9] A capacity crowd of 13,611 attended the Wildcats vs Melbourne United match on 12 January 2018, marking the seventh time topping 13,000 at Perth Arena in 2017–18.[10] The Wildcats went on to record the highest ever attendance for a team during an NBL season with 183,689 fans attending their home games during the 2017–18 regular season.[11]

Since 2012, the team has been forced on an extended road trip for much of December due to Perth's annual hosting of the Hopman Cup at Perth Arena in early January.[12]

When the Wildcats have won the NBL title, the team's victory celebration and ceremony has been held in the City of Perth at Forrest Place.[13][14][15][16][17]

Franchise history

In 1979, the National Basketball League (NBL) in Australia was formed. It took another three years of lobbying by the Perth basketball community, led by personalities like Gordon Ellis, before a team in Western Australia became a reality. Formed in 1982 as the Westate Wildcats, the Wildcats became the first, and so far only, Western Australian team to compete in the NBL. The team was initially coached by Henry Daigle and captained by Mike Ellis, and they played out of Perry Lakes Basketball Stadium. They struggled to make an impact in their first season, finishing 10th with a 10–16 win/loss record.

Gordon Ellis took over as coach in 1983, but a 6–16 record ensued, with the Wildcats finishing well out of the finals race in 13th position. In 1984, the team was renamed the Perth Wildcats, but with coach Lynn Massey at the helm, the Wildcats finished on the bottom of the ladder (16th) with only three wins—an all-time low for the team.

A fourth coach in Jay Brehmer came into the team for the 1985 season. Brehmer and imports Dan Clausen and Roland Brooks looked to lead the Wildcats to a finals berth for the first time, but they narrowly missed out on the post-season with a 13–13 record and an eighth-place finish. The Wildcats suffered a major setback in 1986 with the loss of the high-scoring Roland Brooks, after he suffered a season-ending injury just 10 games into the season. Without their star import, the Wildcats struggled to be competitive as they finished the season in 12th place with an 8–18 record.

Many changes occurred in 1987. Most significantly, the team moved from the small confines of Perry Lakes Stadium to what was known in those days as the Perth Superdrome (now HBF Stadium). The Superdrome was capable of housing 5,000 people, compared to the 800-seat Perry Lakes Stadium. Also in 1987, still captained by Mike Ellis, the Perth Wildcats introduced players to the roster that would become household names such as Kendal Pinder, James Crawford, Cal Bruton (player/coach), Alan Black, Eric Watterson and Trevor Torrance.

The new talent paid off immediately for the Wildcats as the team made the finals for the first time. In the first two stages of the finals, the Wildcats defeated the Canberra Cannons and minor premier Adelaide 36ers to suddenly find themselves in the Grand Final series against the Brisbane Bullets. The Wildcats were repeatedly referred to as the 'Cinderella' story as they entered the season having finished in third-last position in 1986, only to go on to make the Grand Final after finishing the 1987 regular season in fourth position with a 19–7 record. The 'run, stun and have some fun' style of play[18] that had been implemented that season had worked wonders until the Grand Final series. The series was a promoter's dream: East Coast versus West; solid fundamentals versus "run and gun"; future Hall of Fame members on both sides on the floor; and two coaches who couldn't stand each other (Brian Kerle versus Cal Bruton).[19] The Bullets defeated the Wildcats by just one point in front of a sell-out Perth crowd in Game 1 of the three-match series, before claiming the Championship in Brisbane in Game 2 a few days later.

After 1988 and 1989 both resulted in losses to the North Melbourne Giants in the Semi-finals, the most exciting chapter in Wildcats history came in 1990 as prominent West Australian businessman Kerry Stokes purchased the franchise and decided to raise the team's profile to incredible heights by moving the home court to the iconic 8,000-seat Perth Entertainment Centre.

After retiring as a player following the 1989 season, Cal Bruton became the Wildcats' general manager in 1990. Eager for the team to win its first NBL Championship, Bruton embarked on an active recruiting campaign during the off-season; a recruiting campaign that saw the introduction of a player that is regularly referred to as the Wildcats' greatest: Ricky 'Amazing' Grace. Grace teamed-up with Mike Ellis to create a dominating backcourt. The 1990 season began with turmoil as coach Alan Black was controversially fired after only two games, and was replaced by Cal Bruton. Despite the shaky start to the season, the Wildcats recovered to finish in fifth place with a 17–9 record. Entering the finals as underdogs, the Wildcats swept the Melbourne Tigers in the Elimination Finals and got their revenge over the North Melbourne Giants with a 2–1 victory in the Semi-finals to again face the Brisbane Bullets in their second Grand Final appearance.

Tens of thousands of people across Western Australia tuned into the live coverage to watch the Wildcats triumph 112–106 in Game 1 of the Grand Final series in front of a sold-out Perth Entertainment Centre. Brisbane tied the series at 1–1 after winning Game 2 in convincing fashion at home, 106–90. In the deciding game also in Brisbane a few days later, the Wildcats blew the game wide open in the third quarter and were up by 20 points before the final term. They cruised to a 109–86 victory to claim their first NBL Championship. For his superb series, Grace was recognised as grand final MVP. Over the three games, Grace averaged 24.7 points per game.

In controversial circumstances, Cal Bruton was not retained as coach despite leading the Wildcats to a championship in 1990. He was replaced by Murray Arnold, a former assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls. Arnold's style of game was focused on defence which was a significant change from the high scoring and entertaining style previously implemented under Bruton. In pursuit of back-to-back championships, the Wildcats strengthened their roster considerably in the off-season with the addition of future WA basketball legend Andrew Vlahov and Peter Hansen, an American who arrived via Venezuela, Spain and the Perry Lakes Hawks.[20]

Arnold's Wildcats were a highly successful team, as they finished the regular season as minor premiers with a 22–4 record. After another successful regular season, the Wildcats entered the finals brimming with confidence. The Wildcats easily accounted for long-term rivals the Adelaide 36ers in the Semi-finals to then find themselves against the highly-rated Eastside Spectres in the Grand Final. The Wildcats had a unique opportunity to win back-to-back titles, a feat only achieved by two other teams to that point in the history of the NBL. Everything looked on track when the Wildcats were able to defeat the Spectres in Game 1 in Melbourne by 26 points (109–83). Perth had hit fever pitch and another sold-out crowd awaited the Wildcats for Game 2 back at home. However, with their backs against the wall, the Spectres performed with a never-say-die attitude and upset the favourites at home by five points (86–81). Game 2 was played on a Friday night and Game 3 was scheduled for Sunday, leaving the Wildcats little time to formulate a new strategy. However, in front of an electric Perth crowd, the Wildcats were victorious in the deciding third game by 10 points (90–80) and became the third team in history to win back-to-back NBL Championships. Hansen was named MVP of the Grand Final series after averaging 17.3 points per game over the three games.

Just as Mike Ellis had hoped, he and the likes of Pinder, Crawford, Grace and Vlahov found themselves in the midst of a Perth Wildcats dynasty.

After a down year in 1992 produced a quarter-final loss, three major personnel changes occurred heading into the 1993 season. Club legend and captain Mike Ellis retired after 12 seasons, Dr Adrian Hurley was appointed as the new head coach replacing Murray Arnold, and finally the Wildcats enticed two-time league MVP Scott Fisher to the team.

With new captain Andrew Vlahov at the helm, the Wildcats continued their on-court success to finish as minor premiers and make it through to another Grand Final series, this time against a Melbourne Tigers team led by Andrew Gaze, Lanard Copeland and Mark Bradtke. The impending series is often described as the best Grand Final series in the history of the NBL. After splitting the first two games of the series, the championship came down to the final few seconds of Game 3 when Vlahov missed a three-point shot to tie the game with only seconds remaining.[21] Despite being on the losing team, Ricky Grace was named the MVP of the series after averaging 22.3 points per game over the three games.

Following a disappointing 1994 season, the Wildcats looked to recruit a pure sharp shooter to stretch opposing defenses and free up more room in the low post for the likes of Scott Fisher, James Crawford and Andrew Vlahov to operate in. Anthony Stewart was signed from the Hobart Tassie Devils to fill this role. Joining Stewart in the backcourt was Ricky Grace and Aaron Trahair, while Martin Cattalini rounded out the eight-man rotation used by coach Adrian Hurley.

The Wildcats were highly successful in 1995, as coach Hurley guided the team to what was referred to as the 'Triple Crown'—winning the pre-season competition, finishing minor premiers and then winning the NBL Championship. After defeating the Melbourne Tigers in the quarter-finals and the Adelaide 36ers in the Semi-finals, the Wildcats won through to their fifth Grand Final in nine years. In a rollercoaster Grand Final series against the North Melbourne Giants, both teams won away contests to be level coming into the deciding Game 3. The Wildcats went on to overpower the Giants in Game 3 and recorded a comfortable 108–88 victory in claiming their third NBL title. Captain Andrew Vlahov was named MVP of the Grand Final series after averaging 24 points per game over the three games.

The Wildcats' championship win booked themselves a trip to London to play in the McDonald's Championship, an international tournament featuring the best clubs in the world. The Wildcats lost to the Houston Rockets 116–72 in their first game of the tournament, but managed to defeat Real Madrid 93–86 in their second game.[22]

Following four straight injury-plagued seasons that all resulted in early finals exists, the Wildcats geared up for a big season in 1999/2000 behind stalwarts Andrew Vlahov, Ricky Grace, Scott Fisher and Anthony Stewart, as well as the up-and-coming James Harvey and two-year centre Paul Rogers. In a boost for the Wildcats mid-season, the team signed import Marcus Timmons for their run to the finals.[23]

Prior to the season, Perth Wildcats owner Kerry Stokes decided to pass on the reins of the franchise to basketball great Luc Longley, fresh off being a three-time NBA championship winner with the Chicago Bulls, and Andrew Vlahov. The new ownership duo proved to be an instant success with the Wildcats securing an unprecedented fourth championship, defeating the Victoria Titans in front of a capacity crowd of 8,000 at the Perth Entertainment Centre. The Wildcats swept the Grand Final series 2–0, winning Game 1 in Melbourne 84–78 before returning home to clinch the series with an 83–76 Game 2 win. After scoring a game-high 27 points in Game 2, Marcus Timmons was named MVP of the series. To top off the season, Paul Rogers became the first Wildcat to be honoured as the regular-season MVP.

In 2002, club legend and captain Andrew Vlahov retired after 12 seasons, leaving Ricky Grace as the only remaining Wildcat from the team's halcyon days of the early to mid 1990s. Following the closure of the Perth Entertainment Centre, the Wildcats moved back in to their old home, the Superdrome (now HBF Stadium), for the 2002/03 season. The Perth Entertainment Centre was a popular venue for the Wildcats thanks to its central CBD location. The Superdrome, or Challenge Stadium as it became known, was a suburban-based arena and could only hold 5,000 compared to the 8,000-seat Perth Entertainment Centre.

Following Vlahov's retirement, Grace became captain of the Wildcats for the 2002/03 season. Behind Grace and coach Alan Black, the Wildcats finished second on the ladder with a 22–8 record and advanced through to their seventh Grand Final series where they faced the Sydney Kings. In the championship series, the Wildcats were outclassed by the Kings, as they lost Game 1 in Sydney 98–94 before returning home and losing 117–101 in Game 2. In addition to Grace, Alan Black's son, Stephen Black, was also an important member of the Wildcats' 2003 grand final team, as was Tony Ronaldson, Rob Feaster, Matthew Burston, Brett Wheeler and James Harvey.

In the days following their grand final loss to the Kings, the Wildcats decided not to renew Black's contract and parted ways with him for a second time—he was sensationally sacked in 1990 after just one season as coach before being brought back in 1998 to replace the outgoing Adrian Hurley; Black led the team for six straight seasons and claimed one championship.[24] Club legend Mike Ellis was appointed head coach for the 2003/04 season, but in his lone season as coach of the Wildcats, Ellis guided the team to their first losing season since 1986, as they finished in seventh spot with a 15–18 record and earned a quarter-final defeat. Ellis was replaced for the 2004/05 season by another former player, Scott Fisher.[25] In addition, co-owner Luc Longley relinquished his majority share of the Wildcats in April 2004, leaving Andrew Vlahov as the sole owner of the franchise.[26] The 2004/05 season saw the end of an era as captain Ricky Grace played his last game of his career with the Wildcats on 24 February 2005. Grace retired as a four-time NBL champion and a 15-year member of the Wildcats.

With Grace retired, the 2005/06 season saw veteran player Tony Ronaldson become captain of the Wildcats, while future club legend Shawn Redhage joined the team after a failed stint with the New Zealand Breakers in 2004. In his first season as a Wildcat, Redhage averaged a team-best 20 points per game and led the Wildcats to an unlikely Semi-final appearance, where they were defeated by the eventual champion Melbourne Tigers. Redhage's excellent debut season earned him runner-up in the MVP voting. During the 2005/06 season, in February 2006, West Australian businessman Jack Bendat became the chairman and majority shareholder of the franchise. Although no longer the majority shareholder, Andrew Vlahov remained in control of the team as managing director.[27][28]

In August 2006, Paul Rogers became the fifth player to captain the Wildcats. Rogers replaced Tony Ronaldson as captain for the 2006/07 season, despite Ronaldson continuing to play for the team. The Wildcats celebrated their 25th anniversary during the 2006/07 season and recorded their highest number of wins in a single season (23 wins), although historically they have recorded better win-loss ratios. Their season came to an end after being defeated by the Cairns Taipans 82–78 in the quarter-finals.[27] For the second year in a row, Redhage led the Wildcats in scoring with 21.4 points per game.

The 2007/08 season saw the Wildcats return to the Semi-finals under coach Scott Fisher and captain Paul Rogers, but they again fell short of reaching the Grand Final, losing the best-of-three Semi-final series 2–1 to the Sydney Kings. On the season, Redhage averaged a career-best 22.9 points per game and set his career high for points in a game with 40 on 10 October 2007 against the Adelaide 36ers.

Following the 2007/08 season, head coach Scott Fisher departed the Wildcats in order to return to the United States for personal reasons, and was eventually replaced by his assistant, Connor Henry.[27] Another Quarter Final exist ensued for the Wildcats in 2008/09, leading to Henry's tenure lasting only one season.

Over his first four seasons at the Wildcats, Redhage averaged at least 19 points and eight rebounds every year while earning a place in the All-NBL Team in four straight seasons. He was also a four-time Gordon Ellis Medalist during this time for being the Wildcats Club MVP and was donned the nickname of 'The Scoring Machine' due to his scoring prowess as a force on the interior.

Following the 2008/09 season, the Wildcats came within weeks of folding unless they raised a million dollars in sponsorship.[29] The NBL itself was also in strife; with the competition falling on tough times, there was a real possibility at the time that there would be no league in 2009/10.[30] Collaborating with other clubs, the Wildcats helped reform the league. Of all the teams in the NBL, the Wildcats underwent the greatest transformation.[31][32] Under the guidance of managing director Nick Marvin, the club slashed $1.5 million worth of staff and hired a new coach, Rob Beveridge.[31][33] The Wildcats also partnered with the WA Government to promote its 'Alcohol: Think again' initiative.[31] Meanwhile, the NBL made significant changes to the competition. One of Basketball Australia's moves for the 2009/10 season was to return the NBL game to a 40-minute format from the 48-minutes it adopted in 1984, ostensibly to accommodate the international game. This was done to bring Australia back in step with the rest of the world (outside the NBA) and to be more attractive to television as a package because a 40-minute game slots well into a two-hour timeslot.[34]

Beveridge was instrumental in compiling a new-look team where Shawn Redhage, Stephen Weigh and Brad Robbins were surrounded by proven NBL players Damian Martin, Drew Williamson, Luke Schenscher and Martin Cattalini, and rising stars Kevin Lisch and Jesse Wagstaff. Paul Rogers relinquished the captaincy heading into the 2009/10 season, handing over the reins to Redhage.[35] The mix turned out to work remarkably well, with the mid-season addition of Galen Young to replace the injured Paul Rogers proving the masterstroke that brought about a championship in the first year the group was together. After claiming the minor premiership and beating the Gold Coast Blaze in the Semi-finals, the Wildcats came up against the Wollongong Hawks in their first Grand Final series since 2003. After Games 1 and 2 proved to be comfortable victories for each home team, the Wildcats found themselves back inside The Jungle at Challenge Stadium for the deciding Game 3 in front of a capacity crowd. The Wildcats found themselves down by as many as 11 points in the second quarter, before an inspired Kevin Lisch exploded offensively to finish with 29 points to take the team to a record fifth NBL Championship with a 96–72 triumph, with Lisch taking home the Larry Sengstock Medal as MVP of the series.

Following what was a season crippled by serious injuries to Jesse Wagstaff, Matthew Knight and Shawn Redhage in 2010/11, the Wildcats looked to get back on top in 2011/12 with the addition of 7'2" centre Luke Nevill.[36] In a pleasing move, Redhage returned to action in 2011/12 after it was initially feared he'd possibly never play again following his injury in 2010/11. Perth had its heart and soul torn out in January 2011 when, for the first time in his career, co-captain Shawn Redhage was injured. The six-time club MVP lunged for a contested ball in a way that punched the head of his femur through his pelvis, breaking the bone and dislocating the joint.[37]

The 2011/12 season saw the Wildcats jostle over top spot for the majority of the season with the New Zealand Breakers. The two teams went on to meet in the Grand Final, where the Breakers defeated the Wildcats in three games. Game 2 of the series saw Redhage force a third and deciding game with a final-second block on Breakers star C. J. Bruton.[38] In his third season in Perth, Lisch took home the Andrew Gaze Trophy as the league's MVP, making him just the second Wildcat to achieve the honour.[39]

In late 2012, the state-of-the-art Perth Arena was finally completed, with the 13 and half thousand seat stadium becoming the brand new home of the Wildcats starting with the 2012/13 season. However, injuries and retirements threatened to destabilise the season. With an injury to Matthew Knight early in the season, Michael Dunigan was brought in as a short-term replacement. Dunigan quickly became a fan-favourite with an array of blocks and crowd-pleasing dunks. Co-captain Brad Robbins abruptly retired just eight games into the season, sighting he had lost motivation and passion for the game,[40] while Cameron Tovey announced in March that the 2012/13 season would be his last in the NBL.[41] Despite the turmoil, the Wildcats finished second in 2012/13 and made their way through to yet another Grand Final series, where they had a re-match against the New Zealand Breakers. However, the Wildcats were dealt a major blow when Damian Martin was ruled out of the grand final series with an Achilles injury.[42] Brad Robbins was subsequently rushed back into the team to take Martin's place, but without their floor general and defensive specialist, the Wildcats were dealt a 2–0 sweep from a Breakers side that won their third consecutive championship in 2013.

After falling at the final hurdle two years in a row, the Wildcats went about developing a new look squad and style that would seriously challenge for a sixth NBL title in 2013/14. The 2013 off-season saw the departure of Rob Beveridge (coach), Kevin Lisch (shooting guard) and Cameron Tovey (small forward).[43] As a result, the Wildcats appointed Trevor Gleeson as head coach,[44] and signed two new imports in small forward James Ennis[45] and shooting guard Jermaine Beal.[46] The trio joined the team with the core group of players—new captain Damian Martin, Shawn Redhage, Jesse Wagstaff, Matthew Knight and Greg Hire—still intact. Further additions to Gleeson's new squad included centre Tom Jervis and guards Drake U'u and Erik Burdon.

James Ennis was a prized recruit for the Wildcats and his agreement with the team was well documented, with the Miami Heat holding his draft rights and being able to recall him at any time. He opened the season with a 25-point effort against the Adelaide 36ers—the most points scored by a Wildcat on debut at the time. Ennis helped the new-look Wildcats dominate the NBL with an 8–0 start to the season, a start which ultimately culminated in a 21–7 overall record and a minor premiership. His high-flying dunks and athleticism enthralled the entire league, as he proved to be a top MVP candidate alongside Melbourne Tigers guard Chris Goulding and the eventual winner, Rotnei Clarke of the Wollongong Hawks.

The Wildcats cruised to their 11th Grand Final appearance with a 2–0 Semi-final series win over the Wollongong Hawks. After knocking out the Hawks in straight sets, the Wildcats faced historical rivals the Adelaide 36ers in the 2014 Grand Final. After winning Game 1 in Perth on the back of a 30-point effort from Ennis, the 36ers forced a deciding third game with an 89–84 win in Game 2. In Game 3 less than 48 hours later, the Wildcats crushed the 36ers with a 93–59 win, as their 2–1 series victory saw them claim their sixth NBL Championship. Beal was subsequently named the series MVP after Ennis struggled to make an impact in Games 2 and 3. Beal averaged 17.6 points per game during the Grand Final series, hitting 11 three-pointers at an efficient 48%.[47]

After an injury-riddled season in 2014/15 saw the Wildcats earn a Semi-final defeat—much like in 2010/11—coach Trevor Gleeson was confident heading into the 2015/16 season that he had assembled the right blend of players, after conceding his side struggled with chemistry issues in 2014/15. A banged-up Perth was swept out of the playoffs in 2015 following a fourth-place finish which marked an underwhelming follow-up to its title-winning campaign in 2014.[48] Gleeson made a conscious effort during the 2015 off-season to make sure that first and foremost, the chemistry is right. Following a large player turnover, the Wildcats were confident high-profile recruits Casey Prather and Nate Jawai – as well as back-up guard Jarrod Kenny – would be strong fits among the group dynamic.[48]

The Wildcats were relatively injury-free in 2015/16 and finished the regular season in second place with an 18–10 record. By qualifying for the finals in 2016, the Wildcats set a record with their 30th straight season of playing finals basketball.[18] With Jawai's presence inside, Prather's athleticism, tough defence and ability to finish at the rim and Kenny being able support captain Damian Martin admirably, they provided improvement in crucial areas. Alongside the core of Martin, Redhage, Wagstaff, Knight, Hire, Beal and Jervis, the Wildcats were successful in reaching the Grand Final, where they defeated the New Zealand Breakers in three games led by captain and Grand Final MVP Damian Martin.[49][50]

The 2016 off-season saw a lot of change in personnel, with three key players from the 2015/16 championship team moving on—Nate Jawai, Tom Jervis and Jermaine Beal.[51] To replace them, coach Trevor Gleeson brought in Angus Brandt, Jameel McKay and Jaron Johnson, and headed into the 2016/17 season attempting to secure the team's first back-to-back championships since 1991.[51]

The Wildcats started the season off strong with a 4–1 record, but things went south quickly after that. The Wildcats slumped to last spot in December with a 7–9 record as the team's injury toll started to bite—long-term injuries to Martin, Jarrod Kenny and Matthew Knight hurt the Wildcats. Their recruiting was also put under the spotlight when they axed import Jaron Johnson in December for a second time. Johnson was first axed just three games into the season in order to bring in three-point specialist Andre Ingram. But when Ingram returned home after just a few days, citing mental issues, Johnson was reinstated. Johnson was then shown the door again in December as the Wildcats turned their attention to a new point guard.[52] The Wildcats were under siege when they slumped to the bottom of the ladder at Christmas. They then travelled to Wollongong for a must-win game against Illawarra on New Year's Eve without injured captain Damian Martin or a third import (after sacking Johnson). Amid the turmoil and against the odds, the Wildcats beat the Hawks, signed Bryce Cotton and their season changed.[53] Behind the import duo of Casey Prather and Bryce Cotton, the Wildcats won eight of their remaining twelve regular season games, including two must-win encounters in the final week to squeeze into the finals. From there, the Wildcats rolled through the Finals undefeated to claim the title, an incredible achievement in what was arguably the closest season in NBL history.[54] Not only did Perth extend their finals streak into a record 31st straight season,[52] but their 3–0 Grand Final sweep of the Illawarra Hawks saw them claim their eighth NBL Championship. The Wildcats went back-to-back for the first time since 1990/1991,[9] while Gleeson became the first coach to guide the Wildcats to back-to-back championships. In addition, series MVP Byrce Cotton placed his name in the NBL record books with a Grand Final performance that was arguably the greatest in the league's history. Cotton's Game 3 performance was unprecedented—he scored 45 points, the most ever scored in an NBL Grand Final game, breaking a 29-year-old record. His 27.7 points per game over the Grand Final series marked the most from any player in 20 years.[55]

The season was made all the more special following Shawn Redhage's announcement that the 2016/17 season would be his last in the NBL. When Redhage announced his retirement in January 2017, it would have taken a brave soul to predict his last act as a Wildcat would be cutting down the net at Perth Arena. At that time, the Wildcats were sitting on a shaky record of 12 wins and 12 losses and were sitting outside of the top-four. Missing the finals for the first time in 31 years seemed like a real possibility. However, an inspired Perth Wildcats side took to the court in February and finished the season on a seven-game streak. The run of form came at the perfect time, as the Wildcats surged towards the 2017 title, with Redhage's final game seeing him become a four-time championship player. In addition to his six club MVP awards, Redhage departed the NBL as one of the Wildcats' all-time great players. Redhage finished his illustrious NBL career with 393 games to his name—380 with the Perth Wildcats (second on the team's all-time games-played list)—while finishing with 5,819 points and 2,153 rebounds.[56]

The Wildcats reacquired the services of Grand Final MVP Bryce Cotton for the 2017/18 season,[57] but lost two-time Club MVP Casey Prather to Melbourne United. The team's initial replacement for Prather was Devondrick Walker, but after Walker sustained a foot injury in August, the Wildcats replaced him with J. P. Tokoto.[58] Other changes to the roster included Derek Cooke Jr. coming in to replace the outgoing Jameel McKay, and Lucas Walker stepping up from a training player role to a full-time squad member in place of the retired Shawn Redhage.[59] The rest of the local contingent remained the same, including Matt Knight, who announced that the 2017–18 season would be his last. However, following three early-season head knocks, Knight brought forth his retirement in early November to join Redhage in retirement.[60]

The Wildcats started the season with a 10–3 record, before dropping to 13–9 in mid-January. They finished the regular season in third place with a 16–12 record. On the eve of their finals campaign, Cotton was named league MVP, becoming just the third Wildcat to win the award after Paul Rogers (2000) and Kevin Lisch (2012).[61][62] In addition, Cotton earned All-NBL First Team honours, Tokoto earned All-NBL Second Team honours, and Martin was named the NBL's Best Defensive Player—earning the honour for a record-breaking sixth time.[63] In Game 1 of their semi-finals series against the second-seeded Adelaide 36ers, the Wildcats were defeated 109–74,[64] thus recording their second biggest finals loss in club history.[65] The only time the Wildcats have lost by a larger margin in their 32-year finals streak was in 1989 when they lost to North Melbourne by 55 points.[65] The Wildcats went on to lose 89–88 to the 36ers in Game 2 to bow out of the finals.[66]

The 2018 off-season saw the Wildcats secure Bryce Cotton to a three-year deal,[67] while acquiring the services of Nick Kay and Mitch Norton from the Illawarra Hawks.[68] While losing championship trio Lucas Walker, Jarrod Kenny and Dexter Kernich-Drew to the Cairns Taipans,[69] former two-time championship Wildcat Tom Jervis returned to Perth after spending the previous two seasons with the Brisbane Bullets.[70] They also signed import Terrico White and elevated four-year development player Rhys Vague to the full-time roster.[71] The team travelled to the United States for two pre-season games against NBA teams Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets.[72] where they were handed a 130–72 loss to the Jazz in their first match. This loss was cited by coach Trevor Gleeson as the catalyst to what eventually became a title winning season.[73] The Wildcats started the season with a 10–1 record despite Martin, Brandt, White and Cotton being out for various periods of time with injuries.[74][75] By mid-January however, the Wildcats had fallen to 12–9 after losing eight out of 10 games,[76] leading to increasing external pressure urging them to make changes to their roster and bring in a third import.[77] The organisation and coaches instead backed the playing group to return to form and enjoy success in the latter part of the season.[77] In response, the team bounced back with three straight wins over Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney, seeing them move to 15–9 and atop the ladder by late January.[78] They won the next three as well, and despite a regular-season finale loss to Melbourne and being without Norton since 25 January with a calf injury,[79] the Wildcats finished as minor premiers with an 18–10 record.[80][81] They went on to defeat the Bullets 2–0 in the semi-finals to advance through to their 14th NBL Grand Final series,[82] where behind Grand Final MVP Terrico White, the Wildcats defeated Melbourne United 3–1 to claim their ninth NBL championship,[83][84][85] hoisting the trophy on the back of 11 wins from their final 13 games.[86] Having only secured the title interstate once before—in 1990—the Wildcats' win in Melbourne was only the fourth grand final road win for any NBL team since 2009.[87]

Season by season

Source: Perth Wildcats Year by Year [99]

After three years of finals action that included a losing grand final series in 1987, the team won back-to-back titles in 1990 and 1991 behind the likes of Ricky Grace, James Crawford and Mike Ellis, and coaches Cal Bruton and Murray Arnold. It took four more years for the team's third NBL title in 1995, with coach Adrian Hurley and captain Andrew Vlahov leading the way. Five more years elapsed before the next championship came in the 1999/2000 season. Behind coach Alan Black and centre Paul Rogers, and veterans Vlahov, Grace and Scott Fisher still around, the Wildcats won their fourth title.

A large championship drought occurred between 2000/01 and 2008/09, but the Wildcats still made the finals each season. Then in 2009/10, the Wildcats became the undisputed greatest NBL franchise with a fifth championship. Coach Rob Beveridge and import Kevin Lisch were instrumental to the team's success that season, as was Shawn Redhage and Damian Martin.

Their sixth championship came in 2013/14 thanks to coach Trevor Gleeson and imports Jermaine Beal and James Ennis. In 2014/15, the Wildcats qualified for the finals for a 29th straight year, a streak not matched by any Australian or American professional sports team other than the NHL's Boston Bruins. Their seventh championship came the next season in 2015/16, as coach Trevor Gleeson became the first Wildcats coach to win multiple championships. With their eighth title coming in 2016/17, the Wildcats won back-to-back championships for the first time since 1990/1991, while Trevor Gleeson became the first coach to guide the Wildcats to consecutive championships. In 2017, four-time championship-winning trio Damian Martin, Shawn Redhage and Jesse Wagstaff equaled Ricky Grace's franchise record of winning four championships. In 2019, Martin and Wagstaff became the only players in NBL history to win five championships at the one club.[83][84]

The Perth Wildcats' run of 33 straight NBL finals appearances since 1987 is unmatched in major Australian professional sports. It is bettered in the major North American sports only by the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League, which qualified for the playoffs for 34 consecutive years between 1972 and 2005. In American sport, the Philadelphia 76ers (as the Syracuse Nationals) made the NBA playoffs 22 straight seasons between 1949/50 and 1970/71, marking the best streak in the world's premier basketball league. In Major League Baseball, the best streak is held by the Atlanta Braves, who made 14 straight playoff appearances between 1992 and 2005. The only major professional team in the United States that had a record close to the Perth Wildcats' 33 was the NHL's Boston Bruins, who made 29 consecutive playoff appearances between 1967/68 and 1995/96.[88] The Wildcats' 33 still trails Israeli professional basketball club Maccabi Tel Aviv's world record of 37 straight post-season appearances, with their 37th appearance coming in 2017/18.[18]

The most consecutive finals reached in VFL/AFL football is 14 by the Hawthorn Football Club between 1982 and 1994, while the NRL's St. George Illawarra Dragons made 23 consecutive finals appearances between 1951 and 1973. Super Rugby franchise the Crusaders from Canterbury, New Zealand, made 13 consecutive finals appearances between 2002 and 2014.

Arena history



  • 1 Scott Fenton's No. 14 singlet was retired following his death in a car crash on 21 August 1989[89]

On 4 February 2013, the Perth Wildcats announced their best team from the first three decades of the franchise at their 30th anniversary breakfast. The team was picked by 1995 championship coach Adrian Hurley, The West Australian's online sports editor Ross Lewis, and long-time basketball broadcaster John Gardiner.[90]

  • Coach: Adrian Hurley
  • General Manager: Cal Bruton

Honour roll

Source: Perth Wildcats Achievements [102]

Games against NBA teams

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