Home » ‘I grew to love the people’: Chris Anstey’s unorthodox journey to Australian basketball icon status | Sporting News Australia

‘I grew to love the people’: Chris Anstey’s unorthodox journey to Australian basketball icon status | Sporting News Australia

For fans of Australian basketball, there aren’t many names that are more iconic than Chris Anstey, the two-time NBL MVP and trailblazer of the sport – both literally and figuratively. 

Just the second Aussie ever drafted in the first round of an NBA Draft, Anstey spent two pivotal years finding himself in the world’s top league, playing for both the Chicago Bulls and the Dallas Mavericks, the latter of which saw him become lifelong friends with another international player, Dirk Nowitzki. 

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From NBA draft pick to NBL MVP, national team member, NBL coach and now NZNBL team owner, Anstey has run the gaunlet of Australian basketball and come out on top – despite the fact that a future in basketball was never what he had in mind. 

On Sporting News’ podcast Just Bricks, Anstey spoke about his late start playing basketball, his career all over the world, and what he’s up to now. 

Why Chris Anstey chose basketball over tennis

Chris Anstey made history when he became just the second Australian chosen in the first round, picked 18th overall in the 1997 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, and being immediately traded to the Dallas Mavericks. 

But Anstey almost never walked this path at all – in fact, he didn’t even start playing basketball until 17, being a promising up-and-coming tennis player during his teen years. 

“I’d never touched a basketball, never played a game,” Anstey told Just Bricks.

“I filled in for my younger brother’s Men’s C grade team when I was in year 11.

“One of the parents on the court two courts down was the coach of the Melbourne Tiger’s Junior Basketball Club and saw a tall, skinny kid who could move okay that he’d never seen before, and took the time to connect or find out how to get in contact with me.

“I was eventually convinced to go down and try out for the Melbourne Tigers Under 18 top-age team.

“I never grew up loving basketball, maybe even the first three or four years, I didn’t love the sport. I could have played any sport.

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“I don’t mean I could have been good enough to play, but I would have happily played any sport, but I grew to love the people. The more I got to know the people and love the people, I got to love the sport. I probably enjoyed basketball more now than even when I did when I started and when I was playing in those early years because of the lifelong friendships I’ve had or made through it.”

Building a friendship with Dirk Nowitzki 

Despite only playing two years in the NBA, Anstey was able to make connections that have lasted throughout his career. 

One of the strongest bonds came during his rookie year, when he made friends with fellow foreign player, a seven-foot-tall German named Dirk Nowitzki. 

“Dirk was there for 21 years and we remain good mates and so I always followed his journey,” Anstey said. 

“But the Mavericks have been as close to a collegiate environment as what I would expect a collegiate environment to be, where they look after past players and coaches every time I’ve gone back to Dallas.

“They’ve really, really welcomed me, which they had no need to do. I was only there for a couple of seasons, but they’ve been incredible. So yeah, I do follow the Mavericks if I had to pick a team, and especially when there are a couple of Aussies on it, makes it a lot easier.”

Running a pub and a professional team

Since his retirement from basketball, Anstey has been unable to fully leave the game. 

He coached the Melbourne Tigers/Melbourne United from 2012 to 2014, but has since refocused his efforts, moving into the ownership realm. 

Anstey and his sports media company Media8 Sports acquired NZNBL team the Taranaki Airs, and he is also in the process of building his own pub.

“You work on other people’s schedules a lot [when building a pub]. You work on a council schedule, you work on a gas compliance or energy safety or whoever it is,” Anstey said.

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“Learning all the processes that we have to go through and learning that something that’s one of the most important things to us as we go through it’s just another number for them.

“That’s a little bit of that, which is very unlike when you’re involved in basketball and everybody that you’re surrounded by becomes really, really important.

“I’m not coaching, [but] I’ve got a really simple philosophy on anyone that I do coach, if they call me and ask for help and I know them and I like them, then I’ll often say yes.”

WATCH CHRIS ANSTEY ON JUST BRICKS NOW:

*Available on Friday, 5-10pm until 18th February 2024. Participating stores only. Min spend $15. Service fees apply

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