It doesn’t matter the sport, finals bring a different type of pressure. Everything is amplified - the noise from the crowd, the scrutiny from the media, the intensity of play. It’s a win or go home situation.
By
Nick Stoll

28 Feb 2020 - 12:33 PM  UPDATED 28 Feb 2020 - 12:33 PM

WATCH every minute of the 2019-20 NBL finals series LIVE, FREE and in HD on SBS VICELAND, or stream live via SBS On Demand.

But if there is any set of fans that might have become accustomed to the adrenaline rush of being in the postseason it’s the Perth Wildcats’ Red Army 

When the ball goes up on Friday night at Perth’s RAC Arena (LIVE on SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand from 9:30pm AEDT), it will be the 34th consecutive year that the Wildcats have competed in the finals. 

Only two players on their roster - veterans Damian Martin and Jesse Wagstaff - were born the last time they failed to qualify for the finals in 1986.  

It’s a record of consistency that's almost unmatched by any team in world sport.  

In football, Real Madrid hold the record for most consecutive UEFA Champions League qualifications (22), a run that stretches back to 1997.  

But Real Madrid, for over 70 years, have been significantly richer than most of the clubs they're competing with in La Liga.  

The NBL is a salary-capped league, intended to create an equal playing field among the teams.  

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In ice hockey, the Boston Bruins managed an incredible 29 straight NHL play-off appearances from 1968 until 1996.  

In the NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers qualified for the play-offs 22 consecutive times. 

Their run was so long that when it began in 1955, they played in Syracuse and were known as the Nationals.  

The team then moved to Philadelphia in 1963 and kept their run going for another four years.  

In tennis - an individual sport - Roger Federer managed 23 consecutive semi-finals appearances at grand slams from 2003 until 2010.  

Closer to home, no Australian team has ever even come close to Perth’s achievement.  

In Aussie rules football, Hawthorn hold the record having made the finals 13 years in a row, from 1982-1994.  

Meanwhile, the great St. George Rugby league side of the 1950s and 60s made 23 straight finals appearances, including 11 consecutive premierships during this time.  

But for all these great teams, all these great players, Perth have outlasted them all.  

Of course it’s hard to compare sports across different eras - not to mention there are so many different finals systems.  

But the fact that the Wildcats have not had one disastrous, write-off season in 34 years is a masterclass in consistency.  

However, it hasn’t always been the case.  

Matt McQuade has been writing about the NBL for 20 years - an impressive streak in itself - and he told SBS Sport about how the Wildcats went from easybeats to the gold standard.  

“Prior to 1987, the Wildcats never made the NBL play-offs once and were considered easybeats between 1982-1986. In fact, they entered the NBL in 1982 and in their first five seasons finished with an overall record of 40 wins and 83 losses,” McQuade said.

“In the 1984 season alone, they finished with 3 wins and 20 losses.  

“But a construction multi-millionaire named Bob Williams purchased the club in 1987, hired a man named Calvin Bruton to be player/coach, Bruton recruited two superstar Americans named James Crawford and Tiny Pinder, and the Wildcats never missed the playoffs again.  

“The team became more professional than it ever had previously, captured the imagination of Perth and through various ownerships that have included Wildcat legend Andrew Vlahov, the passion for Wildcat basketball in Perth has never waned.”  

No city has embraced the NBL like Perth.  

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WATCH every minute of the 2019-20 NBL grand finals series LIVE, FREE and in HD on SBS VICELAND, or stream live via SBS On Demand.

Seven of the top 10 highest attendances in NBL history have been Perth home matches.  

“In recent years, when billionaire Jack Bendat bought the team in 2007, the team won five of its nine NBL championships, McQuade said.

“In broad terms, the club has had great stability in its ownership for the most part, they've enjoyed great success on and off the court, and are arguably better resourced and better managed than any other team in the NBL. 

“This club has been a model of consistency in both the front office and the playing group, boasting a unique team culture and has been embraced by the Perth community.  

“I call them the 'gold standard' of NBL franchises.” 

The streak almost came to an end in the 2003-04 season - it was the only year during their run that they managed to have a losing record (15 wins, 19 losses), but still managed to qualify.  

In fact, there is only one team in the world that can boast a better post-season qualification record - Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli Basketball Premier League.  

They have qualified for the postseason a ridiculous 39 straight years and counting.  

But Maccabi Tel Aviv are extraordinarily better resourced than their competitors.  

“Perth's streak in my opinion is significantly better than Maccabi given the overall strength and competitiveness of the NBL in comparison to the Israeli league,” McQuade said.  

“Maccabi just has an enormous financial and resource advantage over other teams in the IBL, and it's virtually a given they will make the playoffs every year.  

“The Wildcats are in a league that has a number of powerhouse clubs now and in the past, with no guarantees or expectations of success, so this streak says a lot more about them as a sports club.”  

So there is no doubt Perth have the experience at this level, but will they go all the way in 2020?  

“They haven't been as dominant at home during the regular season as they normally are - they've lost three games at RAC Arena, all by double figures," McQuade said.

“Three losses doesn't seem like much but it's a story whenever they lose at home because typically they dominate there. However, they've won their past five at home, including a 110-100 victory over the Sydney Kings in Round 18.  

“The key to Perth winning the title this season might be the mid-season acquisition of import centre and former NBA player Miles Plumlee, who replaced import Dario Hunt because Coach Gleeson didn't believe Hunt was good enough to help the Wildcats win a title.  

“Plumlee has solidified a group that still boasts the reigning league MVP in Cotton, last year's Grand Final MVP in Terrico White and veterans Damian Martin (albeit he has missed a ton of time to injury this season and has only recently returned) and Jesse Wagstaff, plus outside shooter Clint Steindl," McQuade said.

“I personally don't think they are as strong as last season's unit, but they are still probably the favourites to win the championship.  

NBA legend Walt Fraizer once said: "The regular season is where you make your name, but the post-season is where you make your fame." 

And when it comes to the NBL, there is no team as famous as the Wildcats.