NEWCASTLE dual Olympian John Gardiner played, coached, administered or called basketball for most of his life, blazing a trail for the sport he loved on Australia’s east and west coasts.
Rated as one of the best basketballers Newcastle has produced, the Basketball NSW and Hunter Region Sporting Hall of Famer died last Saturday in his adopted home town of Perth after a battle with cancer. He was 71.
A 190cm tall centre or forward who punched above his weight and played above his height, ‘‘Gadget’’ Gardiner represented Australia at the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Games in Tokyo and Mexico City, and the 1970 World Championships in Yugoslavia.
Playing alongside fellow Hunter icons Terry Charlton, Denis Kibble and Colyn Whitehead, he represented Newcastle for 15 years, winning 12 senior men’s NSW championships, and was a member of the 1967 NSW team that won the national title.
Born and raised in Waratah, he began playing for the Dynamo club and later Wests Leagues.
‘‘He loved the game as a player, but he also loved the coaching aspects, he was an administrator, he was a TV commentator, so he pretty much did everything you could do in the game,’’ Charlton said.
‘‘People might find it hard to understand these days but he was six-foot-three and played centre for Newcastle and NSW, then when he made the Australian team he played more as a power forward.
‘‘He was a good jumper and a good rebounder, quite a good shooter, and an excellent team player.
‘‘I always remember him playing with a lot of ankle injuries. He used to roll his ankle regularly and he’d play with his swollen ankle strapped up, which is something most people couldn’t do, so he was very hardy in that way.
‘‘We were part of a group of guys who got on very well together and travelled around a lot playing social basketball as well as representative basketball together.’’
A life member of Newcastle Basketball and Basketball Western Australia, Gardiner was the National Basketball League’s inaugural commissioner in 1979, running the competition alongside founding father Dr John Rashcke from Newcastle Basketball Stadium at Broadmeadow.
He coached for more than 35 years, which included 25 years as coaching director of the Perry Lakes Hawks in Perth, and helped usher in Western Australia’s State Basketball League as a coach, administrator and director on the board of Basketball Western Australia.
Newcastle Basketball general manager Neil Goffet said the association would pay tribute to Gardiner with a souvenir program and one minute’s silence before the Hunters play Illawarra in the Waratah Basketball League men’s game at Broadmeadow on Saturday night.
‘‘I have spoken to a lot of former great players about John Gardiner this week and there was a general consensus that he was the best,’’ Goffet said.
‘‘Dr John Raschke holds his place in the Hall of Fame for on-and off-court achievements but as far as playing the game goes, John Gardiner was quite possibly the best Newcastle has ever produced.
‘‘Our condolences are with his family and we will pay tribute to him on Saturday night.’’
Basketball Australia chairman Scott Derwin offered condolences to Gardiner’s family and friends.
‘‘John was a bastion of the Western Australian and NSW basketball communities for more than five decades, contributing a tremendous amount to the sport and particularly to the development of younger players,’’ Derwin said.
‘‘Our thoughts are with John’s family and friends at this difficult time.
‘‘He will be sadly missed by all.’’
NBL general manager Fraser Neill said Gardiner cleared a path for other basketballers to follow.
‘‘The NBL exists because of men like John Gardiner who had a vision for the league and set it on its path,’’ Neill said.
‘‘Young basketballers in this country should be thankful for the work John did to help establish the NBL and provide an opportunity to play the game we all love at a professional level.’’
FIBA Oceania president Bob Elphinston described Gardiner as one of the game’s ‘‘real gentlemen’’.
‘‘A wonderful athlete, a powerhouse player for Newcastle for many years, and best remembered for his place in Australia’s first great basketball success – qualifying beyond the odds and finishing ninth in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics,’’ Elphinston said.
‘‘One can never forget the smile – and his love of basketball.’’