Leroy Loggins had a favourite saying …
“I don’t predict, I produce.”
And he did so over and over. And over again.
Loggins has been unquestionably the greatest player in Brisbane Bullets history, and isn’t out of place alongside Melbourne Tigers legend Andrew Gaze, a seven-time winner of the NBL’s Most Valuable Player Award, as the best the competition has seen.
Certainly he rates as the No.1 overseas player ever to play in the Australian League.
A 195cm shooting guard/small forward, Loggins was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and grew up in the toughest of neighbours in Baltimore, Maryland., where drugs and murder were everyday things.
“You could get shot just for looking at somebody the wrong way,” he often said.
Loggins attended Forest Park High School in Baltimore before going to college at Baltimore City Community College (1976-78) and Fairmont State University (1978-80).
He was a standout performer at Fairmont, who during his time played in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC).
So highly was Loggins regarded at Fairmont that he is one of only 27 men’s basketball members of the college’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
So impressive was Loggins at college that despite playing at what was regarded as a smaller college, he was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the eighth round of the 1980 NBA draft at number 161 overall. But as is often the case, NBA draftees need extraordinary luck to land with a team needing their exact skill-set. As it turned out, only three players drafted after Loggins tasted NBA action, and Leroy headed ‘Down Under’ to forge an altogether different life and a wonderful career in Australia.
Reflecting at the end of his career on how it had all begun, he said he left America with $20 he borrowed from his auntie. He didn’t eat on the plane flight because he thought he had to pay extra for the food.
“Once I landed in Australia I knew I did not want to go back. When I first got here I was hungry. I was freakin’ out when I landed … I was starvin’. I got to the Wentworth Hotel (in Sydney). I ordered room service but knew I only had $20 to spend. I got a cup of hot chocolate and a croissant.”
“The waiter was just standing there and I thought he wanted a tip. I spent $10. I had $10 left. I said to him “you can either have a sip of hot chocolate or a bite of the croissant but I ain’t going to give you no money”.
Appropriately, when Loggins celebrated his 20th wedding anniversary to Australian bride Deidre many years later he returned to the Wentworth. And he didn’t eat croissants or drink hot chocolate.
In one of the great sporting journeys, Loggins played with the Bullets in his first season in the NBL in 1981. It was a team coached by Dave Claxton and captained by Brian Banks.
In a 12-team competition that also comprised the Nunawading Spectres, Launceston City Casino, Coburg Giants, Forrestville Eagles, Bankstown Bruins, St.Kilda Saints, Newcastle Falcons, City of Sydney Astronauts, West Adelaide Bearcats, Canberra Cannons and Wollongong Hawks the Bullets went 13-9 through the regular season to qualify for the finals. They were eliminated by Launceston, the eventual champions, and finished fourth overall.
A fresh-faced 23-year-old, Loggins averaged 21.6 points per game to lead the Bullets in scoring and rank 10th in the League behind Illawarra’s Michael Jones, St.Kilda’s Rocky Smith, West Adelaide’s Al Green, Forrestville’s Reg Biddings, Canberra’s Dave Nelson, Launcston’s Ian Davies, Sydney’s Curt Forrester, Newcastle’s Owen Wells and Canberra’s Herb McEachin.
Almost overnight he’d become a household name among basketball fans in Australia, even if one person somewhere didn’t quite get it. In one of the more embarrassing mis-prints in NBL history, the 1982 NBL Media Guide listed him in the top 10 scorers as Leroy Higgins.
The masterful import made sure nothing like that ever happened again when he forged a career that might never be replicated.
He was lured to West Adelaide for two seasons, where he continued to stamp his mark on the burgeoning competition, winning a championship in 1982 and finishing runners-up in 1983.
But when coach Brian Kerle took charge of rebuilding the Bullets program in 1984 Loggins was his prize recruit. And so began a partnership that has rarely been seen in any sport in Australia.
Loggins, already a 23-game Bullet from his introductory stint in 1981, played for the club from 1984-2001, retiring at 43 still more than capable of holding his own with the best the game had to offer.
So much so, he said, that he was a reluctant retiree.
“I didn’t give it away – they took it away,” he said in an interview with The Courier-Mail in 2012. “It hit me unexpectedly.”
Rightly or wrongly, the club decided they need to move in a different direction.
Loggins become something of a recluse, suffering from depression when the only life he really knew was taken away from him.
“I tried to wear the iron vest and say I wasn’t. But now, when I reflect back on my life, I think I went through a stage where I had depression – where I did not want to do anything and my wife said I was terrible to live with.”
“I was not being a great partner and I hated the world. It probably took me two years to get over it. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t give a damn. It was hard.”
“For 30 years I would wake up and put my shoes on and that’s what I did … so when it was taken away from me unexpectedly it hurt me.”
But he bounced back, establishing the Leroy Loggins Foundation via which he helped educate young Australians about tackling the challenges he faced.
He need only tell them about his own story. Because it was as compelling as it gets after he used basketball to escape from the perilous street gangs of Baltimore and make a life for himself in Brisbane.
Loggins played 513 Bullets games in total, scored 11,777 points at 22.96ppg off 49.95% shooting (4683-9376), including 39.40% from three-point range (652-1655) and 83.21% at the free-throw line (1759-2114). He also averaged 7.01 rebounds, 2.99 assists, 2.44 steals and 1.06 blocks.
Overall, he played 567 NBL games, including his two years at West Adelaide, scoring 13,106 points at 23.1ppg.
At the time of his retirement this was the NBL record, although since then his games mark was surpassed by Andrew Gaze and Tony Ronaldson.
He leads the Bullets in every statistic imaginable, and boasts an extraordinary list of individual NBL awards and accolades, including:-
- 3 x NBL Most Valuable Player 1984-86–87
- 10 x NBL All-Star Team – 1982-83-84-85-86-87-88-90-93-94
- 3 x NBL Grand Final MVP – 1982-85-87 +
- 2 x NBL All-Star Game MVP – 1982-88
- 2 x NBL Defensive Player of the Year – 1987-90
- 3 x NBL Championship Team – -1982-85-87)
- Member NBL 20th Anniversary Team (1998)
- Member NBL 25th Anniversary Team (2003)
It was no coincidence that in 21 seasons in the NBL he featured in 17 play-off series and seven grand finals. The only years he missed play-off action was in 1989, 1991, 2000 and 2001.
He loved and thrived on the pressure of play-off basketball, playing a total of 52 playoff games, scoring 1128 points at 23.46ppg. It was a scoring average higher than for his full career overall. Little wonder he was regarded as the original ‘Money Man’.
But statistics, as compelling and comprehensive as they are, only tell part of the story.
It wasn’t all about the numbers. The nature in which ‘Leapin Leroy’ got the job done was just as important. And just as impressive.
He thrived on pressure. There wasn’t a clutch shot he didn’t want to take or one he didn’t make more often than not.
As good as he was offensively, he was an American who also prided himself on his defence. A rare specimen in the NBL.
Bullets captain from 1990-2001, he was an inspirational leader, prepared to sacrifice his game for the good of his team and his teammates.
And he was simply adored by the fans, not just for what he did on the court but the engaging way he went about things off the court. He was the complete package.
So highly was he regarded by the club and the city that became his home that his #30 singlet was retired when he finally hung up the hi-tops, and the Queensland Basketball Association commissioned in his honor a statue that was erected outside the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, where he thrilled and delighted fans for so long.
In 2006 he was inducted into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame.
That he should be saluted in this fashion by his adopted country said much about a player who counts among his greatest achievements something that went far before jump shots and rebounds.
It all went back to 1980 when, playing at Fairmont State University, he was invited to trial for the United States Olympic team. He declined, saying he didn’t feel like he belonged in such elite company because he had “low self esteem”.
In the end it didn’t much matter because the team which included the mercurial Magic Johnson boycotted the Moscow Games anyway, but 12 years on when the most unlikely opportunity presented itself he wasn’t about to miss out again.
Having become a naturalised Australian citizen, Loggins was chosen to represent his adopted country in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics alongside the likes of Gaze, Luc Longley and Mark Bradtke.
The Boomers finished sixth overall with a 4-4 win/loss record in what was an extraordinary side bar to an even more extraordinary career. And Leroy Loggins, from downtown Baltimore, was right there in the thick of it.
Now, with the re-birth of the Bullets, he will be back in the thick of it again, helping to reinvigorate the club that did so much to help make him the household name he is.
+ There was no official award for the Grand Final MVP in 1982 or 1985 but Loggins was named Player of the Match.
Written by Peter Blucher.