For the Adelaide 36ers and coach CJ Bruton, it was about being ready for the moment and seizing their chance to make history.
The new-look NBL outfit did that and more as David took down Goliath and created Australian sporting history, stunning $270 million NBA powerhouse the Phoenix Suns in a result heard around the sporting world.
While the rest of the NBL teams got their new season underway at home the revamped 36ers travelled to the Arizona to take on Phoenix and put the home team to the sword in an unforgettable 134-124 victory.
It was the first time an NBL team, which has a salary cap of justf $1.7 million, has ever beaten an NBA team as the pre-season hitouts resumed for the first time since 2019. The 36ers became the first non-NBA team to win a pre-season game since Fenerbachce beat Brooklyn Nets in October, 2015.
Bruton’s phone blew up in the aftermath of the victory with even fellow NBL coaches sending messages declaring what a proud moment it was for the Australian league.
It was a moment not lost on the coach who had declared it was like Rocky’s battle with Apollo Creed before the game, and, like Rocky, the underdog shocked the world.
“Everyone wants to create history and I needed to remind my players that while we had this opportunity we needed to take advantage of it,” Bruton said from Arizona.
“I’m excited for my boys and the NBL and the 36ers and I’m excited that my family is here and happy and seeing my players happy … it’s not championship but it’s a good start for where our season may begin.
“I’ve played Olympics, played elite level and travelled around, and this is amazing. The reason why we are here is for the game.
“But that was for our league, it wasn’t just for us, it was for our league standing up.”
While the Suns were playing in their first game since their 2022 playoff exit and they had regular starters Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Miles Bridges, Cam Johnson and DeAndre Ayton, who earn most of the combined $270 Suns annual wage bill, open the game.
But after getting “locked in” during a pre-match shootaround, it was the 36ers, earning a combined $1.7 million this season, who put on the show.
The new Adelaide imports went on an offensive onslaught with Craig Randall II (35 points) and Robert Franks (32 points) who showed their NBA-calibre class in Arizona.
Randall in particular put on a display to get 36ers fans frothing after letting fly from long range and landing nine of his teams 24 three-pointers, weaponry the Suns couldn’t handle, even getting the attention of Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant.
Phoenix got within one-point during a third quarter-rally, but it was all they could muster.
“I think their starters, were, I don’t know if they were shocked, but they probably thought we would drop off,” Bruton said.
“They gave it to us in that second half, that third quarter, to bring it back quickly. Their starting five dominated that quarter. But when they went to their bench we were able to hold them off and make a few big plays as you have to in sport to be successful.
“The guys I recruited to do the job, they did their job well. Our three imports stood up, our Australians stood up, they proved we have got culture and chemistry we are building, it’s just a glimpse of where we can get to.”
Before the match the Suns’ own Australian, former NBL finals MVP Jock Landale, declared the visitors would “come in and play freely” and they did they just that.
There was a considerable lack of intensive defence from the Suns, with the 36ers managing 71 first half points alone. To put that in perspective, through the opening round of the NBL last weekend the match average was 90 points per game.
But the visitors refused to take their foot off the pedal in the second-half and while the “shocked” Suns rallied to get to within one point in the third quarter, the 36ers would not be denied in a performance to remember for the NBL outfit.
Bruton also said it was a win for the city of Adelaide, the start of a turnaround after a 10-18 record last season which wasn’t enough for a proud club to make the playoffs.
“This was an opportunity for them to help the city of Adelaide stand up,” he said.
“There’s no better way to start that off, before we come home and play our first home game, to have this under our belt.”
The 36ers revamped the roster during a big off-season, signing important Randall, Franks and Antonius Cleveland, who also had 22 points against the Suns.
Randall II arrived in Adelaide fresh off winning the 2022 NBA Summer League championship in Las Vegas and was a dominant offensive presence against the Suns.
Franks, who had played in the NBA with short stints at the Orlando Magic as well as the Charlotte Hornets, was equally as impressive from the three-point arc, nailing six of 10.
The 36ers will go again this Friday when they take on the Oklahoma City Thunder and Aussie sensation Josh Giddey, who won the NBL’s rookie of the year award before being taken at pick 11 in the NBA draft, before returning home for their opening clash against the Jackjumpers on October 13.
Bruton, who was going to “watch the video” to prepare rather than revel too long in the victory, said bringing a similar performance was just as important as winning.
“It’s even more important. It’s about the moment and the opportunity,” he said.
“This is about the 36ers coming together. Winning that game doesn’t win us the championship. It sets the stage.
“Playing OKC just adds another layer, this will be Round 2, then we come home. We need to back up.”