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Basketball: Tears and cheers as Leicester Riders secure first-ever title


There were tears and cheers, champagne and celebrations as the Leicester Riders became British basketball's top dogs on Saturday night.

This was the night when the club that began five years before a league in this country was formed, who were founder members of the league, stood tallest.

This was the night when the oldest club in British basketball could finally lay claim to being the best.

After toiling away at top-flight basketball for 38 years, mainly as make-weights or even worse, the Jelson Homes DMU-backed Leicester stood at the top of the basketball tree and no-one can catch them.

Little wonder then that the normally unflappable Kevin Routledge, the club's director, whose connection with the club goes back almost 40 years, was wiping away the tears as he embraced coach Rob Paternostro moments after the final buzzer.

He has seen more than most, but even he could probably never had dared to dream a night like this.

Nor too the sell-out crowd, who to a person stood and saluted their team for the final minute of the game.

This was the night that Vaughn Thomas, Peter Shaw and the founding fathers had dreamed of on April 26, 1967, when the club was born with a vision of being the best in Britain.

It may have taken 46 years, but for those who witnessed it, it was well worth the wait.

Those who squeezed themselves into John Sandford, and it was a squeeze as the old place struggled to contain the support of champions, had come for a party, in their minds Durham were merely the supporting cast.

But the visitors were coming to save their season, only a victory would keep alive their slim hopes of the play-offs.

The scores were level at 15-all seven minutes in, but Drew Sullivan and Yorick Williams led Riders' charge in an 11-2 finish to the first quarter.

Jorge Calvo and Zaire Taylor hit three-pointers that had Leicester into a double-figure lead and they were essentially cruising at that point.

Riders hit the first eight points of the second half to lead by 20 and they could have almost brought the medals out.

Not that anyone had told that to Paternostro, who, even when his side's lead had reached 88-57 with six minutes to play, didn't look comfortable.

One can only imagine what he said in the time-out three minutes later when 11 consecutive points by Durham had narrowed the gap. But he needn't have worried, the game was never in doubt, the title has not been in doubt. In truth, outside of Leicester, many had Paternostro's team inked in as league winners for a month or more.

So Jorge Calvo calmed his nerves with a three-pointer and not long after he was leading the cheers 'campeón' as the first Spaniard to win the British league.

And as they collected their medals after the game, this current squad of Riders' players inked themselves into the folklore of the BBL's oldest club.

There has been no superstar carrying the side all year, just a dedicate group of players who take turns at being the key player.

Riders 93: Rowe 15, Couisnard 13, Sullivan 13, Taylor 12, Losonsky 12, Williams 11, Calvo 9, Anderson 6, Washington 2, Haggith, Lamble, Maynard.

Wildcats 70: Keister 16, Bucci 15, Baldarelli 12, Page 10, Guinane 8, Johnson 6, Elderkin 2, Reynolds 1.

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