Leopards always liked to make a splash. I’d like to think that the second version of the club did thins a bit differently at times, but the original Big Cats were masters at it. The summer of 2002 saw the club step into unchartered territory when they accepted an invitation to play in the eight-team World Pro Basketball Challenge Las Vegas.
Coach Chris Pullem recruited a team that were mainly already in the States for the summer though big man Jason Seimon travelled from London and it was a mixture of players who’d been in his 2001/2 team and veteran BBL players.
The first round (quarter-final) saw the Big Cats go in as massive under-dogs against Brazilian champions Vasco Da Gama but produced arguably the shock of the tournament with a 95-89 victory. The competition was staged by the ABA 2000 league, and Leopards faced their all-star team in the semi-final. There were definitely some curious refereeing decisions – including a shot that counted for four points! – helped the hosts who included NBA veterans AC Green and Chris Mullin reach the title game with an 85-79 victory,
The disappointment was softened by the chance of facing NBA legend Magic Johnson in the third place play-off. The former LA Laker and member of the legendary Dream Team who gave USA the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics had put together his own all star team
Magic ducked out of the action after just five minutes, Leopards’ up tempo style proving too much for him, and another great performance saw bronze medal (and the small matter of a $50k cheque) sealed with an 89-83 victory.
Clearly I enjoyed it, to the point that I produced a 12-page booklet which was inserted in the programme for the first league games of the league season!