Gilchrist reflects on glorious, but short-lived PBL

BNL can learn lessons from the PBL

NINETEEN ninety-four was a year of change in South Africa in almost every social sphere. From a sporting context, especially basketball, there was a momentary witnessing of a revolution in the form of the Premier Basketball League (PBL).

One of the players of that time, is the legendary Craig Gilchrist. He was among a cohort of ballers, who plied their trade in the league that brought a great boom to the country’s basketball scene.

During those heady days, the PBL had Allied Bank (now part of the ABSA group) and later Telkom as sponsors. Unfortunately, due to the maladministration of the PBL, it put paid to the endless possibilities, and the dreams of many aspiring players faded into the abyss.

Despite the sad ending of that league, the 53-year-old KwaZulu-Natal Marlins coach got on the nostalgic train. He spoke to The Big Tip Off with great fondness about his time as a Marlins player during the PBL era. He also took a tone of frustration at the slow progress of the now 10-year-old Basketball National League (BNL).

Marlins coach Craig Gilchrist feels young players can learn a lot from the PBL era. Pictures: The BTO

Gilchrist, a former national team coach, also explained that the BNL, which his Marlins team are a part of, could take some lessons from the defunct PBL.

“Being a part of the PBL was great. Being a part of the BNL now, we refer a lot to how great the PBL was. So, I don’t know why they are trying to reinvent the wheel with the BNL,” said Gilchrist, a PBL champion with the Marlins.

“With only eight franchises, the talent pool in the PBL was vast. All the talented players moved between eight teams instead of 12 as we have now. The level was higher then. There was sponsorship which allowed clubs to sign foreign players.

“The foreign players lifted the standard of the league because they had played elsewhere professionally. It’s what the Tigers are doing now. It was a shame that the PBL fell away, and it took so long to start the BNL. I wish they would take a few pages from the book of the PBL.”

Craig Gilchrist won his only PBL title with the Marlins in 1997. Picture: Supplied

The former South African national team captain says PBL wages were better than what current players earn today. He also pointed out that teams also travelled more in those heydays.

“It was great. Our pay was more than what the guys in the BNL are earning now. I was a full-on professional and played overseas between seasons,” said the national men’s team assistant coach. “There were also home and away games. Egoli Magic would come down to play the Marlins at DUT (Durban University of Technology), and we do the travel up for our away games.

“There was always home support and not the disadvantage of travelling like the teams outside Gauteng have to do these days. I wish we could go back to those days, so that the kids today can experience what we did.”

Gilchrist also had a stand-out moment from the PBL era.

“Winning the title with the Marlins in 1997. We had a great team that year. The guys got along well; it was like a brotherhood. To win a national league at any level is always exciting, so that memory will always be with us,” said Gilchrist, led the men’s national team to the 2017 FIBA AfroBasket.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Craig Gilchrist (@11craig11)

Following the demise of the PBL in the late 90s, South African basketball experienced a lull. While there were activities here and there, it’s safe to say there was not much to be excited about. That’s until the launch of the BNL in 2013, and for a short while, a renewed energy returned to the country’s basketball fraternity.

Gilchrist, who was in his 40s, made a return and again in the colours of the Marlins, who made it to the last four that year.

“It was an exciting time. I was 43 and dusted off the shoes because of the excitement. I was still playing competitively and wanted to get involved. It looked like the return of the PBL and that the sky would be the limit,” said Gilchrist.

The veteran coach reflected on their BNL playoff against the then Mbombela Wildcats (now the Mpumalanga Rhinos), which ended controversially.

“That semi-final… I still have the photograph of Sakhile Sithole scoring the layup with point one second left on the clock. The ref ran from the other side of the court to overrule it. So, that was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow, but these things happen,” said Gilchrist.

He would play for a couple more seasons before hanging up sneakers to focus on coaching the Marlins. This season the 2-1 Marlins are aiming for a second league title in the franchise’s history. With players like Bandile Nsele, Sibusiso Mabulala, Ben Myburgh and Skhumbuzo Mthembu the Marlins have the ability make some noise in the BNL.

“Naturally, the first prize is the championship. Our road is tough now because of our loss to the (Tshwane) Suns. We have the talent, but we have to iron out minor errors, and then we will be able to compete against anyone,” said Gilchrist.

Gilchrist, who is also an ardent surfer, knows about ebbs and flows, especially in South African basketball. While he yearns for the bygone years, he is in the present, and maybe his wisdom can rub off on this crop of Marlins players and inspire them to achieve greatness.

Gilchrist reflects on glorious, but short-lived PBL Read More »