The Women’s National Basketball League (NBL) is the pre-eminent women’s basketball league in New Zealand. The league began in 1983 with Hamilton defeating Canterbury 63-60 in the Grand Final.
Between 1983 and 1996 Hamilton/Waikato and Auckland dominated the NBL with one of the two teams winning 14 straight championships (Auckland on eight occasions and Waikato six).
Waikato’s 1996 championship was notable for the re-appearance of Carolyn Grey. The Waikato forward had not played in the League since 1991 but she returned and had the satisfaction of assisting Waikato end Auckland’s run of five consecutive championships.
Grey who would go on to represent Waikato over a remarkable five decades, playing her final game for the team in 2012 at the age of 58!
In 1997 it was Taranaki that finally broke the Auckland-Waikato dominance with Dianne l’Ami scoring 30 points in a 64-53 Grand Final defeat of Auckland.
Canterbury Wildcats won the 1998 title, Otago Breakers the following two and Wellington Swish the 2001 crown.
Former New Zealand player Veronica Thompson was in her third season as coach of the Swish and unexpectedly made a return to the playing arena at the age of 39 to help guide her team to a 75-53 Grand Final win against North Harbour.
The Outstanding Forward and Outstanding Guard Awards have been won by some of New Zealand’s greatest ever players. The Outstanding Forward Award went the way of Carolyn Grey on multiple occasions in the 1980’s, Leonie Patterson was the recipient for seven successive years between 1988 and 1994 before Gina Farmer (4) and Donna Loffhagen (2) had their names inscribed on the trophy in the late nineties and early 2000’s.
Corrina Cordtz/Poto, Antonia Solomon and Leanne Walker each won the Outstanding Guard Award on multiple occasions with Di Robertson, Belinda Colling and Kim Wielans collecting the trophy on one occasion each.
The League spawned the careers of numerous players who represented New Zealand at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Donna Loffhagen (Otago and Canterbury), Megan Compain (Canterbury Wildcats), Kirstin Daly (Hawkes Bay), Leonne Patterson (Wellington and Auckland) , Sally Farmer (Canterbury), Julie Ofsoski (Wellington) and Rebecca Cotton (Wellington) each played at two Olympics.
The trio of Leanne Walker, Tania Tupu (both Waikato Lady Titans) and Gina Farmer (Canterbury Wildcats) had the distinction of playing at the 1994 FIBA World Championships as well as being double Olympians.
After Canterbury Wildcats beat Nelson Sparks in 2004 the national competition went into a regional format before in 2009 being relaunched as the Women’s Basketball Championship (WBC).
Between 2009 and 2019 Harbour Breeze, Otago Gold Rush and Canterbury Wildcats won multiple titles whist Waikato Wizards had the unenviable record of finishing runners-up on four occasions.
During those years Tall Ferns Jess Bygate (2012 with Nelson Sparks), Stella Beck (2013 with Hutt Valley-Porirua), Jillian Harmon (2015 with Otago Gold Rush) and Kalani Purcell (2019 with Auckland Dream) were named WBC Most Valuable Players.
Predating both the National League and the WBC was the Women’s National Championship. The first National Championship was played as early as 1945 when Wellington were crowned the inaugural champions.
Wellington, Auckland and Palmerston North were the pre-eminent teams in the pioneer years of the 1940’s and 50’s. During the 1960’s and 1970’s Hutt Valley and Otago also enjoyed spells of dominance.
Many household names graced the National Championship in its early years. Yvette Williams played for Auckland and Otago in the 1950’s whilst Dame Lois Muir also suited up for Otago in the 1950’s and early 60’s.
Other well-known players in those early years included Anita Kirby, Nola Waterhouse, Irone Brough, Penny Harford and Heather Stenhouse.
Like Yvette Williams, Waikato’s Donna Gilchrist would become an Olympian and in addition was one of the first New Zealand women to gain a basketball scholarship in the States. She attended Utah State University from 1978.
Notable players in the 70’s and 80’s included Mary Poching, Ann Robertson, Corrina Cordtz, Di Robertson, Heather Grayburn and Veronica Thompson.