An American in Porirua
Kris Dando speaks to long-time Papakowhai resident Bob Bishop about coaching the Tall Blacks, life in the military and losing 19 straight games.
How did you get involved in basketball?
I lived in Des Moines, Iowa, in the late 1950s and there were all girls in my neighbourhood. The older boys had gone off to college, but there was a basketball hoop. I used to play by myself, imagine I was a famous player and re-create games.
It was all about basketball from an early age for me. Ohio State were the national [ college] champs in the late 1950s, and I was enthralled by them.
High school basketball must have been a big influence on you?
We had a great basketball programme at high school, but I put in more time managing the football and basketball teams while still at school. Our coach, Bob Anderson, was a major in the war in Korea. He was the the best manager of young people I’ve met and taught me a lot — he demanded a standard of excellence. That was the start of a lot of things for me.
What about school?
I played small forward for Cornell College in Iowa and we went undefeated among the small colleges when I was a freshman.
What I learnt most playing in college was about players having specific roles and that if everyone does their role, things will come together.
I took a job with Cornell in their admissions department and, as part of the role, got a car through a local Ford dealership. I had to choose a sedan or a Mustang — life is full of choices!
Then the military came calling?
I got drafted in 1968. I was 23. I worked in linguistics for the military and was based in California. I played basketball for my brigade. We lost the final to a team that had four NBA players in it.
Then I was shipped to West Berlin and was based in the old SS headquarters. I’d only been there a day and was told I was going to play for a military team in the Berlin city champs. I even got excused from duties for a while! I got my first taste of coaching there. It was strange for someone who wasn’t an officer to be bossing guys around.
What brought you to New Zealand?
I met my wife, Lynn, while she was travelling in Germany. She was from Palmerston North. After the military I was working in admissions for Cornell again, but was getting more interested in biomechanics and sports science.
One of the top sports scientists was James G. Hay, a Kiwi working at the University of Iowa, and there were other New Zealanders in that field as well. I heard of a job going at the University of Canterbury, so came out in 1979 to teach physics and human physiology.
cancelled my Sports Illustrated subscription because I wanted to be completely assimilated into the New Zealand culture.
You coached Canterbury University and the provincial team. Was the basketball different to what you were used to?
While there wasn’t necessarily the natural talent here, there was that Kiwi attitude of hard work that I loved. It’s the same reason the USA aren’t going to win at rugby – we don’t play enough, it’s not embedded in the culture, especially among kids. In my first year with the university team we went 0- 15, but we turned it around. I was named coach of the year in 1980 and started to get noticed.
Was there any money in coaching?
I would get $15 a game at the provincial level and I once got a box of Nelson fruit for running a coaching clinic there. It’s much different now. Back then you were in it for love.
IAnd you got your shot with the Tall Blacks in 1985?
It was exciting. We played a US All Star team and won all five games, but then lost to Australia in world champs qualifying. Luck- ily the competition was expanded from 16 to 24 teams, so we got an invite. We beat Malaysia and had a real chance to beat the Netherlands, but had players out because it was played on Sunday. I coached through to the end of 1987. In that time we had played the teams ranked 1 to 4, 6 and 8 in the world, and the University of Las Vegas and Purdue University – 19 games and we went 0-19. People said: ‘‘Bob Bishop can’t win.’’
You’ve been in Porirua since 1989?
I came here to be the head of sport and recreation at Victoria University and bought a house next to the police college. Been here the whole time — we overlook Aotea Lagoon and the harbour. I don’t think I’d want to live any other place. I love this community.
Did you still have national roles in basketball after 1987?
I coached for a time at Victoria and was also part of a plan in the 1990s to develop basketball in this country. We had a target of the 2000 Olympics in Australia. Then the stars seemed to align in that dream run at the 2002 world championships.
Tab Baldwin did a fantastic job that year. I kept out of coaching until recently, when I was asked by Frank Mulvihill if I would work with Porirua coaches.
Have you enjoyed watching Steve Adams with the Oklahoma City Thunder?
He absolutely landed in the right team to be successful. He has the big men in front of him. There’s no pressure to score points when Kevin Durant is doing it – Steve can just be a rookie. He got clear directions on what to do and to his credit he stuck to it.
Who are the best players you saw?
The best player I’ve coached against was Drazen Petrovic, who played for Yugoslavia at the worlds in 1986. He had four years in the NBA before he was killed in a car accident. He could do everything. The best I ever saw was Bill Russell from the Boston Celtics. He changed the way the game was played.
In New Zealand, the finest player I coached was Stan Hill – 6ft 10, unstoppable inside, shot 50 per cent from three-point range and could take on the best in the world. He had the biggest hands you’ve seen, but handled the ball like a point guard. Stan could win a game all by himself and had a very high basketball IQ.
And you’re still involved here in basketball in Porirua, with a holiday programme this week and next?
I get a buzz from seeing these kids at Te Rauparaha Arena [Bishop is a coach mentor] and when they get out on that court with a ball. I’ll never get sick of that. We have the athletic talent in Porirua and the chance to give young people a positive experience and develop.
Bishop was made a life member of New Zealand Basketball last month.
Basketball royalty: Bob Bishop, Porirua resident and former Tall Blacks coach.
Legend: Bob Bishop says Stan Hill is the best player he coached.