Step aside United and City – there can be no doubt about Manchester’s most successful sports team this season.
Manchester Magic have won a stunning quadruple this year in securing National Basketball League Division One, the play-offs, the National Cup and the National Trophy.
This represents redemption for Magic, who lost out in agonising fashion last year, finishing second in the league and losing in the play-off final after a cup and trophy double.
And after becoming only the second side in history to complete the clean sweep – after Reading Rockets in 2008 – head coach Paul Middleton told MM that the roots of the success lie in last season’s near misses.
“It’s been surreal really – you don’t expect to be so dominant,” said Middleton, whose side have lost just four games all season.
“We had a very strong team so we did have high expectations, especially after last year.
“That gave us the hunger for this year, because we brought everybody back, we lost one player, and a lot of teams have a high turnover of players.
“We had a couple of games last year that we shouldn’t have lost, long away journeys – this year we were mentally so much stronger, and a lot more hungry.
“The disappointment of losing in the play-off final last year made us think ‘you know what, we’re not allowing it to get to that stage this year’.
“You could see the focus on their faces.”
The English basketball structure is something of a curate’s egg, with the NBL separate to the British Basketball League, which operates a franchise system, featuring Manchester Giants.
This means Magic have no worlds left to conquer, and star players, including Frank Garcia Garrido and the American Ellis Cooper – voted MVP two years in a row – will now likely depart the Amaechi Basketball Centre.
It could lead to the appearance of more junior players, with the National Basketball Performance Centre in Belle Vue aiding the sport’s popularity.
Magic’s success comes just two weeks after the city hosted the final of the Junior NBA Basketball League, featuring 30 Manchester-based secondary schools.
This could suggest a golden era for the sport, but as Middleton points out, the sport has always had a captive audience – it is just sometimes impossible to be heard above the din.
“Basketball in Manchester has always been popular, but it’s just been hidden behind other sports because it’s such a sporty city,” said Middleton.
“The players have been fantastic getting involved in community schemes, so our fan base has grown over the last couple of years.
“Ten years ago we were getting crowds of 700, and we’re only just starting to get those back again.
“It’s difficult – you’re fighting City and United, and the Giants, so you’re competing against them for support.
“I don’t know if it’s growing more, but it’s a battle – we know that when people try basketball, they love it.”
Image courtesy of Manchester Magic, via Twitter, with thanks