1997 was a big year for the Melbourne Tigers in terms of winning Grand Finals. The Tigers would go on to win the NBL Grand Final against arch enemies, the South-East Melbourne Magic but the forgotten Grand Final occurred on a Wednesday night at the newly opened Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.
On the 20th of August 1997, 10 players lined up in Melbourne Tigers uniforms to take on the Frankston Blues in the now defunct Victorian Basketball Association. The players that lined up that night for the Tigers were some of the stars of the NBL.
6 – Warrick Giddey
7 – Daniel Egan
10 – Andrew Gaze
13 – Damien Chapman
20 – Jason McCray
21 – Lanard Copeland
22 – Erik Wickstrom
23 – Brett Rainbow
31 – Blair Smith
51 – Ken Henry
Head Coach: Al Westover
Assistant Coach: Lindsay Gaze
Team Manager: Ian Jones
(Other players of note, to have played that season were Jarvis Lang, Marcus Timmons and Mark Bradtke)
The Melbourne Tigers were undoubtedly one of the favourites to win that year along with Sandringham (Full of Magic players such as Chris Anstey, Tony Ronaldson, Mike Kelly, Jason Smith and Andrew Parkinson). The VBA was by no means just another competition as there were plenty of NBL players in the league as noted with Sandringham. Altona had many North Melbourne Giants players such as Paul Maley, Matt Shanahan and David Stiff, Coburg had yet to be Melbourne Tiger Stephen Hoare, Knox had Darren Perry (now Dandenong Rangers SEABL Head Coach) and out at Ballarat was future NBL import Damon Lowery. The season ran from February through to August whilst at the same time the NBL was running from April till October.
During the 1997 season the Tigers finished 2nd on the ladder by way of a Tie-Break with the Sandringham Sabres. Both teams finished with 20 wins and 4 losses. Out of the Tigers 4 losses, 2 of them came against the Sabres.
The Melbourne Tigers path to the finals was not easy as they took on the Ballarat Miners in the Quarter Finals and just scraped home with a 103 – 100 win. The Ballarat Miners fans would have had 1989 in mind with the team so close but the Tigers finished up prevailing with Andrew Gaze scoring 33 points, Blair Smith added 27 and Daniel Egan 13. The Melbourne Tigers would be breathing a sigh of relief as well as Sandringham were knocked out in a surprise upset by the Dandenong Rangers by 2 points.
The Tigers would go on to face Broadmeadows (now Hume City) Broncos in the Semi Finals. The game proved to be a high scoring affair with the Melbourne Tigers winning 128 – 106. Andrew Gaze again led all scorers with 43 points, Lanard Copeland added 22, Blair Smith 17, Ken Henry 13 and Daniel Chapman chipped in with 10. Alongside Melbourne booking their spot in the Grand Final, Frankston did so in a tight game against the Dandenong Rangers 102 – 98.
The Melbourne Tigers were red hot favourites to beat Frankston but there was a belief that if Frankston could stay close to the Tigers going into the last quarter then an upset could be on the cards.
The game was a tough flowing affair with the Tigers going through the motions as the Tigers won the 1st quarter 36 – 30 and by half-time the Tigers had extended the lead to 9 at halftime, 64 – 55. The Tigers in the 3rd quarter opened the game up and put Frankston to the test as they scored 42 points to Frankston’s 30. The Tigers went into the last quarter leading 106 – 85. From there it became a mere formality for the Tigers as they finished up winning 136 – 114. Andrew Gaze was named MVP of the game scoring 40 points.
Along with Andrew’s 40, Lanard Copeland scored 31 points, Daniel Egan 20, Blair Smith 17 and Brett Rainbow 10.
1997 VBA Award Presentation held after the Grand Final game
1997 VBA All-Star Five
Centre – Cameron Burns (Kilsyth)
Forward – Paul Maley (Altona)
Forward – John Pierce (Nunawading)
Guard – Andrew Gaze (Melbourne)
Guard – Daimon Lowery 9 Ballarat)
Coach of the Year – Bill Runchey (Frankston)
MVP – Andrew Gaze (Melbourne)
Scoring Leader – Steve De Laveage (Bendigo) 722 Points @ 34.38PPG
Assists Leader – Andrew Gaze (Melbourne) 140 Assists @ 7.37APG
Rebounds Leader – Chris Sneed (Dandenong) 284 Rebounds @ 12.9RPG
Rookie Of The Year – Glen Siegle (Dandenong)
On behalf of the Melbourne Tigers I would like to thank Bruce Mitchell from 88.3 Southern FM for all the details he supplied on the 1997 VBA Season