The Quiet South Australian
Brett Maher goes one-one one with SportsAustralia's correspondent Antimo Iannella, revealing
some notable highs and tragic lows in his 15-year NBL career.
After 15 seasons and 446 NBL games, it seems Brett Maher has finally found time to take a breather.
“Yeah, I’ve just come back from two weeks away with the family at our holiday house. It’s the first break
I’ve had since I started with the Sixers and it was great to be able to relax and unwind away from
Stretching leisurely, he chuckles, “But it’s going to be really hard to get back into pre-season.”
If anyone has earned a rest, it’s the ultra-consistent Maher. Since arriving in 1992 as a 19-year-old
straight out of the Australian Institute of Sport, the sweet-shooting guard has been the heart and soul of
the 36ers; the one constant through 13 playoff campaigns and three championships.
Along the way, he has weathered the highs and lows of both sport and life, reaching the pinnacle of
Australian basketball at three Olympic Games and overcoming great personal tragedy to remain Adelaide’s most
dangerous on-court weapon.
His trademark, textbook jumper remains virtually untouched after all these years, as does his renowned
work ethic and unselfish attitude. Despite the advancing threat posed by father time, Maher continues to be
the man opposition teams’ target.
He’s only going to get more attention after a tumultuous off-season for the Sixers that has seen three key
players- import Dusty Rychart, Jacob Holmes and Oscar Forman- walk out on the club in pursuit of more dollars.
Maher doesn’t hide his frustration.
“It is disappointing; they’re all good quality people. Dusty, he’s really low maintenance, which is really
great to have in an import, and Oscar and Jacob, they’re two young South Australians, which is always hard to
lose especially when they’re both just starting to blossom,” he said.
The recent additions of 42-year-old Lanard Copeland and 34-year-old Brett Wheeler have been widely
criticized as a stop-gap measure, but Maher rejects the claims, observing, “Phil’s system probably suits older
players and the roster we’re putting together for next season looks like it’s going to be a more senior squad;
guys that understand the game, so I think we should do very well next year.”
In many ways, it is the long-term association between Maher and Adelaide mentor, Phil Smyth- NBL Hall of
Fame player and now a three-time championship coach- that has been the key to the Sixers’ period of sustained
success. Behind every great player is a gifted coach and their comfortable working relationship at the top
of the 36er tree has produced an environment conducive to winning and more importantly, entertaining the
“He’s a really good coach at encouraging people and getting the best out of his players,” Maher says of
Smyth. “He has a really good rapport with all the guys and a really relaxed style as you can see when he’s
coaching. To be able to just go about your business and not worry about someone ranting and raving at you on
the sidelines is encouraging for everyone and brings the best out of you.”
Maher’s recent two-week sojourn has him loose and laidback, perhaps even more so than normal. Sporting a
three-day growth and Shannnon Noll-style flavour saver, it seems a lifetime ago when the baby-faced Maher
emerged from the Sixer bench to be a key figure in Adelaide’s 1994 grand final appearance.
Though they lost that final series to the North Melbourne Giants- Maher recalls with a laugh, “The first
match was a great game, Darryl (McDonald) hitting the shot over me to win it in overtime, great memories,”-
it was the beginning of his evolution into a big-time NBL player.
He improved his scoring average in each of the next four seasons, bringing it up to 18.8 points-per-game
by 1997, while also contributing five assists and four rebounds per contest. His status as the Sixers’
leading performer was underlined by his ascension to the club captaincy that same year, taking over from
Adelaide legend, Mark Davis.
But ultimate team success continued to elude Maher and the 36ers, until Smyth returned in 1998 and
assembled one of the deepest and most versatile squads ever to grace the NBL hardwood.
Imports Darnell Mee and Kevin Brooks, plus the burgeoning talents of Martin Cattalini, John Rillie and
Maher, formed the basis of that ‘run-and-gun’ outfit, which proved to be the perfect antidote for Brian
Goorjian’s dour, defensive game over two memorable seasons.
“The first (championship) we won over there was really special. They (South East Melbourne Magic) were the
dominant team all year, very defensively-orientated and we were able to completely shut their offence down in
the finals,” he remembers fondly.
“KB (Brooks) just went off in that series and everyone played well, which must happen if you want to win.
The back-to-back titles in 98/99 were special for different reasons than the last one; everything just clicked
in 2002. We didn’t have anywhere near the same talent, we just had a lot of good role players, and guys that
were able to step up in those big games.”
None more so than Maher himself, who lifted once again in 2002 to lead Adelaide past West Sydney and secure
an unlikely third NBL championship. He also captured his second Larry Sengstock medal for MVP of the finals,
in the process, further enhancing his stature as a big occasion player.
“Personally, it was just great to be able to able to put a few good games together,” he notes in customary
understated fashion. “But for the team, to be able to achieve all that again, to win it all when no-one gave
us a chance, it certainly capped off a fairytale year.”
Maher’s beautifully rendered, double-storey house blends nicely into the overcast morning conditions, and
the modest, yet charming neighbourhood where it’s situated befits his low-key style. Maher lives here with
wife Tanya and their six-year-old daughter Cheyanne, who plays noisily in the background with a friend.
If it wasn’t for a cruel twist of fate, Cheyanne would probably be playing with her younger brother Hudson
Maher’s second child was just three months old when doctors diagnosed him with a rare form of bone marrow
disease, requiring daily chemotherapy and weekly blood transfusions, which were only available in Sydney. The
Mahers stayed interstate during the pre-season and commuted between cities as the year progressed, but
tragically, not even a marrow transplant could save Hudson, who passed away in November 2003.
Understandably, Maher’s focus strayed as he faced the darkest period of his life, however, in seeking
solace on the basketball court, he also found a new outlook on the game he loves.
“I decided to keep playing through that year because at that stage, I had to find something to keep my mind
off what was going on and it was a release for me to come out and play,” he said. “I think it actually
increased my love of the game and it certainly gave me a completely different perspective on the sport.”
“In the past, I probably thought basketball was everything; I’d concentrate completely on that and winning
was everything to me. But after that, it really made me look at the bigger picture more and it’s made me
re-evaluate the way I approach life.”
It’s obvious Maher’s late son is never far from his mind and a lime green wristband -emblazoned with the
words, ‘The Hudson Maher Foundation’- adorns his right arm as a constant reminder. In 2004, Maher and wife
Tanya launched the charity in memory of their ‘little fighter’, hoping to assist families dealing with the
same rare illness.
“We set it up after we got some really good support from the Adelaide Crows, who raised money for us to be
able to go over to Sydney for three months of treatments. We realized that not too many people are in that
position to receive that kind of assistance.
“There’s not really a big support network for people to go interstate for these treatments, so we thought
it’d be a good idea to start the foundation to help those families. So far we’ve raised close to $100,000 a
year, which is pretty good for a small organisation.”
Amid the heartbreak, a serious back injury surfaced and threatened to derail a farewell Olympic
performance. However, Boomers coach Brian Goorjian showed considerable faith, presenting the experienced guard
with a berth in the Athens squad and some much-deserved playing time on the international stage.
His lack of minutes on the national team has proved a sore point in the past, but a philosophical Maher
light-heartedly concedes it’s something that couldn’t be helped. He says with a grin: “To get the chance to
play at three Games was pretty amazing, though I really haven’t played that much when you add up all the court
time ... I certainly believe at the Olympics I’ve been under-utilized and probably could have been used a
little more. But I was coming in behind some pretty talented players as well so you have to take that into
His first free off-season in more than a decade has allowed him the opportunity to explore his options for
retirement, which is looming on the horizon. Maher plans to hang up his sneakers in two years and while he’s
unsure what the future holds, don’t expect to see him remain heavily involved with the game. “I’ve put some
feelers out in different areas, more so in business, away from basketball. Once my career is over I’d like to
do something different.”
In the meantime, the refreshed 33-year-old is confident there’s plenty left to accomplish with his beloved
Sixers- just as long as he can get himself back into training.
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