Robert Dillon: Does Newcastle need an $11 million skate park, or a new basketball stadium?

THE debacle at the Entertainment Centre on Saturday night is an embarrassing reminder that Newcastle, Australia’s seventh-largest city, is devoid of appropriate basketball facilities.

But never fear, we will soon have a new $11 million skate park at South Newcastle Beach, funded by the NSW government and Newcastle City Council.

The question of priorities was again highlighted when the pre-season NBL trial between Sydney Kings and Illawarra Hawks was abandoned at the 11th hour on Saturday, after it was decided the playing surface was too slippery and dangerous, leaving the thousands of fans in attendance fuming.

FIASCO: Andrew Bogut and other players discuss the playing surface at Newcastle Entertainment Centre before the game was abandoned. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

FIASCO: Andrew Bogut and other players discuss the playing surface at Newcastle Entertainment Centre before the game was abandoned. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

It has been 12 years since the EntCent hosted an NBL game, and the only reason the now-defunct Newcastle Falcons and Hunter Pirates played there is because the old stadium at Broadmeadow does not comply with national-league criteria.

That stadium houses six courts, which, in addition to the two hired from Hunter Sports High, accommodate an estimated 3400 players, 1500 of whom are juniors.

Almost two years ago, Newcastle Basketball received $5 million in state government funding to build three new courts, but those plans have been put on hold, largely because playing numbers have surged in the interim.

Newcastle Basketball now believes it needs more than three new courts. Hence it is trying to secure additional funding.

Newcastle, of course, has a proud basketball history. It is the home town of Olympians Suzy Batkovic and Katie Ebzery, and is where superstar Ben Simmons played his first under-age games.

ARCHAIC: Newcastle's basketball stadium is more than 50 years old.

ARCHAIC: Newcastle's basketball stadium is more than 50 years old.

Yet cities with far smaller populations – Bendigo, Townsville, Dandenong, Cairns and Illawarra – field men’s or women’s teams in the national leagues. Presumably they have not only decent stadiums, but enough courts for the juniors who aspire to become the next generation of champions.

Newcastle, meanwhile, is stuck in a time warp, relying on an archaic Broadmeadow premises that was built more than 50 years ago, with a roof prone to leaking. 

After Saturday night’s fiasco, we’ll be lucky if visiting NBL teams return to Newcastle, let alone any prospect of basing a franchise here. 

It will be a sad day if kids dreaming of becoming the next Ben Simmons decide to trade in their basketballs for skateboards.

HIGH ROLLERS: Newcastle skateboard riders will benefit from a new $11 million skate park at South Newcastle Beach.

HIGH ROLLERS: Newcastle skateboard riders will benefit from a new $11 million skate park at South Newcastle Beach.

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