Fire still burns for the once top guns
The Canberra Cannons
Michael Hill consoles a distraught fan after the Cannons' last game. Photo: Andrew Campbell
Before the Raiders and the Brumbies, the Cannons ruled Canberra sport by playing before sell-out crowds at The Palace.
But 10 years on from their bitter demise and their last game in the National Basketball League, club greats fear the once mighty Cannons have been forgotten.
Friday marked a decade since the Cannons final game in the NBL - a 113-103 loss to the West Sydney Razorbacks at Tuggeranong on March 1, 2003.
It was a sour end to a foundation NBL franchise, which won three national titles and put Canberra sport on the map.
But by the end, players weren't getting paid, the crowds had dropped, the team struggled to perform and the licence was sold to the Hunter Pirates.
''Seeing that happen to the Cannons, that was the most disappointing time in my 30 years of basketball,'' former Canberra coach and NBL Hall-of-Famer Cal Bruton said. ''It was such an iconic brand that no one wanted to see us leave. We tried to revive the program.
''But they sold it to a shark. Then it left forever, it was hard to finish that way for a brand that was a leader in this country.
''After the last game, I didn't work for three months. I couldn't go out of my house.''
At the end of that last game players shed tears with administrators as the once-mighty franchise came to a horrible end.
The moment had been coming for a long time. The Cannons went into administration in 2002 and the end appeared close.
But they rejuvenated the next year, had basketball legend Magic Johnson play for them while touring the United States and recruited some stars to boost their championship hopes.
Then it all went belly up. They couldn't afford to play at The Palace - the AIS Arena - and moved to a venue with a tin roof at Tuggeranong for their final days.
They had to offload stars like CJ Bruton because they couldn't pay them.
ActewAGL was a sponsor from 1979 until the end, but many other financial backers walked away.
The Cannons limped across the finishing line with just eight players and a 10-point loss.
The last game was Brad Williams' 200th NBL appearance. ''It was emotional and we were almost back to the grassroots. I remember the Razorbacks waiting for us and forming a guard of honour as we walked off the court at the end of the game,'' he said. ''My memories are of the feelings in the change room before and after the game and how much it meant to everyone involved.
''I'd love to see [NBL] back in Canberra. I don't know how to feel 10 years on. I just hope the Cannons don't get forgotten.
''I was assistant coach to [former Cannon] Glenn Baird for the ACT under-20s side last week and those guys who are 18-years-old don't know much of the Cannons.
''There's a generation of basketball in Canberra that doesn't know anything about the Cannons and that's a shame.''
Basketball ACT isn't preparing a bid to re-enter the NBL, which has been through some tough stages in recent years with more teams folding and financial woes.
The closest Canberra may get is a pre-season game this year with the hope of attracting one-off NBL matches in the future.
The Cannons exit wasn't all doom and gloom.
In the early 1980s, the Cannons players' profiles and fame rivalled Mal Meninga and the Canberra Raiders.
Bruton - who played for Perth - said it was like a war arriving in Canberra.
''You could feel the buzz and the heat from the crowd, The Palace was the best venue in the country,'' he said.
Foundation Cannon and club legend Herb McEachin couldn't walk down the street without being stopped.
''The whole city was into the Cannons, they loved us,'' McEachin said. ''You name it, we got it. Everyone knew the players' names and there was a buzz about being a Cannons player in those days, everyone wanted to be a part of it.
''[US import] Tad Dufelmeier would bring posters for us to sign for his students and we'd be signing 100 posters after training. It was great to be entertaining; the crowds loved you in those days.''
The Cannons left the NBL with three titles - 1983, 1984 and 1989 - and five grand final appearances.
A decade on from their demise and the legends still hope that one day the Cannons will be resurrected.
''It makes me sad it's been so long. I thought the NBL could have done more to save the Cannons,'' McEachin said. ''It hurts that it ended the way it did. There were tears behind closed doors that people didn't see. It was like losing a close relative.''