IF YOU haven’t managed to catch ESPN’s 30 for 30 series of superior sporting documentaries, the place to start is with the excellent Winning Time – the story of the legendary rivalry between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks.
It focuses on NBA hall of famer Reggie Miller, the talented and charismatic Pacer who led Indiana’s efforts against big-city New York during the nineties.
The tag-line reads: “He got in their heads, and broke their hearts”.
Newcastle Eagles owner Paul Blake could apply similar sentiments to Drew Sullivan, the GB basketball giant who stands in the way of the Tyneside club’s hopes of retaining the BBL Cup in Birmingham this Sunday.
He may no longer turn out for Newcastle, but the club know all about what Sullivan can do.
He won the league on Eagles territory with Mersey Tigers in 2010 and was part of the Leicester team that laid down a marker with a fine win at Sport Central earlier this season. Whenever Eagles hearts are broken, Sullivan never seems to be far away.
He posted a reminder of his enduring ability in Tuesday night’s live Sky game, turning a tight match against London Lions on its head with a vital block and score to return Leicester to top of the BBL standings.
It is a rivalry that is based on a healthy mutual respect – Sullivan calls Fab Flournoy his “brother”, while the GB skipper trained with the Eagles at the start of the summer – but also a desperate desire to get one over on each other.
Blake is just thankful that Sullivan is in the BBL to renew a battle that has shaped so much of the Eagles’ fortunes of late.
“I was watching the Leicester game on Tuesday and Drew won that game,” he said. “When they needed to score, he scored.
“When they needed a defensive rebound, he got it.
“He does so many things well and he’s a solid player.
“Wherever Drew has been, he’s improved the club that he’s playing for and that says everything you need to know about Drew.
“The top and bottom of the rivalry is that if Drew is playing against the Eagles, he’s usually brought the club he’s playing to the level where we know we’re going to be in for a tough game.”
Had the story unfolded differently, Sullivan might have been part of the Eagles dynasty.
After a return in 2009 there was talk of him signing a long-term deal that would have taken him up to the summer’s Olympics, when he captained Great Britain in their first Games appearance in modern times.
There was no agreement though, which surprised a few. Originally it seemed like Sullivan played with a point to prove against the Eagles but Blake has a different version of it.
“There’s just 100% respect from the Eagles for him,” he said.
“I’ve always got on really well with Drew. I’ve always had a lot of time for him and the one thing you know with him is that he gives 100% in every game he plays – he never leaves anything behind.
“You saw that at the Olympics. He was one of the key men in that team – they gave him the ball and you just knew he wasn’t going to turn it over.”
Leicester’s win on Tuesday puts them top of the league and they already have the benefit of winning the league match earlier in the season.
“It is 50-50,” Blake says. “I haven’t known a Cup final as tightly poised as this one for a while.”