Taipans opt out of Pride Round over ‘abuse and ‘harmful commentary’, Phoenix win, Froling suffers fractured skull

The Cairns Taipans have rocked the NBL’s inaugural pride round, citing “abuse and harmful commentary” directed at some players as the reason for pulling out of plans to wear themed uniforms for the occasion.

Earlier this week multiple Taipans players reportedly voiced concerns about wearing a rainbow logo on their jerseys due to their religious beliefs.

The club released a statement before Wednesday night’s tip-off against South East Melbourne Phoenix, declaring it would “opt out” of the uniform initiative.

“Some of us have LGBTIQA+ people in our families and want nothing more than to represent them in a positive and spirited way,” the statement said.

“This initiative should be a celebration, however, our team has already been subjected to a barrage of abuse and harmful commentary that has led to individuals being targeted and shamed.

“This is a negative distraction to what should be a positive experience across the game, and now we feel as though our only choice as a team is to collectively opt out of this season’s uniforms.

“This is not a reflection of our individual stances or personal views, but a protection of our brothers that are being set up to be vilified and no longer feel as though they have a safe space in our sport.

“Positive change requires positive action, and we believe we can champion different people and groups in our society without persecuting others in the process. We hope everyone finds it in their hearts to understand.”

The statement was signed by the Taipans squad.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 25: Keanu Pinder of the Taipans drives to the basket during the round 17 NBL match between South East Melbourne Phoenix and Cairns Taipans at State Basketball Centre, on January 25, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Cairns copped plenty of feedback for their decision once it was announced on social media with plenty of users commenting that it was a win for homophobia over inclusivity.

The NBL was supportive of Cairns’ decision, declaring it would not force players or teams to wear pride round jerseys. “The NBL fully respects and understands that there may be people in the community with different views to those being conveyed through the Champion Pride Round,” league boss Larry Kestelman said.

“Hence we have not mandated that our players have to wear the Pride jersey and if any player or team elect not to wear the jersey, we will respect that decision.”

The drama has unfolded just two months after Melbourne United centre Isaac Humphries became the first openly gay active player in NBL history.

Humphries applauded the league’s decision to host a pride round for the first time this season, saying “it is another step towards the league and basketball becoming a more comfortable and welcoming environment”.

The Taipans situation is similar to that which unfolded at NRL club Manly, who faced resistance from members of their playing group after introducing an inclusion jersey last season without player consultation.

Phoenix grind out crucial win over Cairns

South East Melbourne Phoenix continue to find ways to win with their season on the line after defeating Cairns Taipans 85-80 to record their third victory on the trot and maintain their place inside the NBL’s top six.

A run of 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night’s crucial clash at Melbourne’s State Basketball Centre saw the Phoenix grind out their 15th win of the season and inch closer towards securing a place in the league’s inaugural Play-In Tournament.

South East Melbourne fought back from a 10-point deficit in the opening quarter to edge ahead 44-43 at half-time and appeared to snatch control of the game with a flying start to the third quarter, but the visitors fought back to set up a thrilling finish.

Cairns held a three-point lead midway through the final period but a combination of careless ballhandling and desperate Phoenix defence resulted in six Taipans turnovers in a horror two-minute stretch as the home side built a decisive 81-71 advantage.

Mitch Creek paced the Phoenix with 21 points, Allan Williams added 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Trey Kell III earned the praise of coach Simon Mitchell after stepping up in the absence of injured swingman Ryan Broekhoff with a 17-point haul.

“It was really important for him to hunt his offence a little bit more and that’s the one thing (Broekhoff) has been doing wonderfully well the last probably five games,” Mitchell said about the American-born forward’s impact on the game.

“He has found ways to become a scorer instead of a shooter and hunting ways to get on the basket.”

The result sees South East Melbourne (15-12) move into fifth spot ahead of Perth (13-11) and Melbourne United (14-12) with the opportunity to lock in a Play-In berth with a victory over ladder-leaders Sydney on Sunday.

Cairns took advantage of early foul trouble for Williams as they skipped out to a 24-14 lead, DJ Hogg sparking the Taipans on his way to 10 first-quarter points while Ben Ayre’s disruptive defence caused frustrations for the home side.

But South East Melbourne prevented Cairns from scoring in the final two minutes of the opening term to trim the margin to five points and Gary Browne added seven points early in the second quarter to help the Phoenix grab their first lead of the game.

The Taipans recovered from a 10-point hole in the third quarter but lost star big man Keanu Pinder to a nasty eye injury before unravelling at a vital stage of the final stanza.

While Cairns (16-9) remain in second spot on the ladder, the defeat opens the door for New Zealand (14-10) to challenge for the guaranteed semi-final place alongside the defending champion Kings.

Froling out for season after assault

Brisbane forward Harry Froling will miss the rest of the NBL season after a suspected punch to the head left him unconscious on a Wollongong street.

Froling remains in hospital in Brisbane with head injuries. He is in a stable condition after the incident, which occurred about 2am on Sunday after the Bullets’ defeat of the Hawks on Saturday. 

The 24-year-old discharged himself from Wollongong Hospital on Sunday morning to catch a flight back to Brisbane with the team, before he reported to Prince Charles Hospital with continued head soreness.

Scans then reportedly confirmed a fractured skull and bleed on the brain that required surgery.

NSW Police said in a statement their investigation suggests Froling was punched in the head and fell to the ground.

A 19-year-old man was arrested on Tuesday afternoon after turning himself in at Wollongong’s police station.

The Bullets, who are out of finals contention, on Tuesday released a statement confirming Froling will miss the team’s final three games of the season.

The club declined to comment further on Froling’s decision to fly home with the team.

“The Brisbane Bullets are working closely with NSW Police and NBL integrity unit as they investigate the circumstances surrounding an alleged assault on Harry Froling,” the Bullets said in a statement.

“As an investigation is under way, the club is not in a position to make any further comment, other than to say the players, coaches and staff all send their well wishes to Harry and his family.”

Froling is from Townsville and played with the Hawks, where his younger brother Sam now plays, last NBL season.

He won the NBL’s 2019 rookie of the year award and recently notched 150 games in the league.

Brisbane have won their past three games to improve to 8-17 in a horror season that included a 49-point loss to Sydney this month and saw coach James Duncan axed last year. 

Humphries applauds Pride Round initiative

The NBL’s first active openly gay player Isaac Humphries has applauded the league’s decision to host a pride round for the first time.

The NBL’s pride round begins from Wednesday and across nine games, players will be invited to wear jerseys that feature a pride logo on it. Across the week, all courts will display that logo as well as a pride progress flag.

The NBL confirmed to AAP that players would be permitted to play wearing their regular jerseys if they would prefer.

Players, coaches and staff also have the option to participate in LGBTQI awareness training as part of pride round.

“I welcome the NBL’s inaugural Champion Pride Round, as it is another step towards the League and basketball becoming a more comfortable and welcoming environment,” said Melbourne United’s Humphries, who came out earlier this season.

“Since I made my announcement, not only has it made me feel free and happy, but it has also inspired me to help create serious change and set an example that you can be a professional athlete, or anything you want to be, and still be gay.

“The support I have received has been overwhelming and I’ve been so thankful for that. The challenge now is to help others on their journey and make a real change.”

The NBL’s pride round follows pride games scheduled in the AFL, Super Netball and A-Leagues during the most recent seasons. The Super Rugby hosted its first pride round in 2019

NRL club Manly faced resistance from members of their playing group for introducing an inclusion jersey this season without player consultation.

The NBL has developed the round in cooperation with its players union, the Australian Basketball Players’ Association (ABPA).

According to ABPA CEO Jacob Holmes, the round has the support of the players.

“The Pride Round provides an opportunity to celebrate the value of diversity within the League and society,” he said in a press statement.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 14: Isaac Humphries of Melbourne United works to the basket against Brady Manek of the Wildcats during the round three NBL match between the Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United at RAC Arena, on October 14, 2022, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger expected some players may not warm to pride round but that the initiative was nevertheless worth pursuing.

“We acknowledge, at times, there will be challenges with various stances we take as an organisation and they may conflict with some people’s beliefs,” he said in a statement.

“Regardless, we will continue to work together to support each other, and we will always respect that people may have different views, opinions and values to ours.

“Basketball is for everyone and we have always been strong advocates for diversity and inclusion. 

“We will do all we can to ensure the NBL is a community where everyone is welcomed and supported, and individuals are encouraged to be themselves without fear of discrimination or judgement.”

Broekhoff out 2-3 weeks

Ryan Broekhoff’s NBL season may be over after the ex-NBA swingman went down injured in the 112-91 win over Perth Wildcats that keeps the Phoenix’s finals hopes alive.

Broekhoff appeared emotional during a timeout in the fourth quarter in Melbourne on Sunday as he told Mitchell he had tweaked his groin.

The former Dallas Maverick had enjoyed his best game of the season with 26 points but played no further part and was consoled by his teammates at courtside.

Broekhoff, whose season ended early last year with a shoulder complaint, was up and about at the end of the game with ice on his injury. He had scans on Monday and has been ruled out 2-3 weeks.

“It’s horrible. The guy just can’t take a trick but it’s professional sport,” Mitchell said.

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