Chuck Harmison has seen all the highs and lows of the Hawks National Basketball League franchise.
When he sits at the WIN Entertainment Centre and looks up he can see his retired jersey hanging from the rafters alongside other club greats such as Melvin Thomas, Gordie McLeod, Glen Saville and Mat Campbell.
The club legend remembers fondly the days of the Snakepit – famous for its packed crowds of raucous Hawks fans – but he has seen a transformation again in the crowd at the Sandpit (WEC).
On Wednesday night a full house of 5000 screaming Illawarra Hawks fans will greet “arch nemesis” Perth in game two of the NBL grand final series.
“When we first moved into the WEC we were averaging crowds of 4500 and part of that was `newness’ and moving into a new building,” the former club games record holder said.
“They’re certainly not doing that now but the sport has taken some hits and now the fans are coming back to rediscover what they loved - as shown by pulling back the curtain for the semi and this game likely to be a sellout.
“The crowd is on their feet and urging, they are about as loud as I’ve heard it in many years and on Wednesday night they’re going to be louder. In terms of the atmosphere it’s getting back to where it was.”
Harmison attributes the team’s make-up to be a big reason for the Illawarra fans’ renewed passion.
“The guys interact with the fans well,” he said.
“Everyone, at the beginning of the season labelled them as `no hopers’ that didn’t spend any money, halfway through the year we’re sitting one or two and the next thing you know we’ve knocked the top team out of the grand final
“Like the old Sydney Swans philosophy, there’s no dickheads in this team. They’re all good guys, all down to earth.”
Harmison said he considered this season’s version of the Hawks to be “up with the best of them”.
“Considering what has happened the last three, four, five, six years it speaks volumes of the club as a whole,’’ he said.
These days a passionate fan, the now retired former basketball administrator has not missed a home game all year. He even turned down an opportunity to commentate on ABC Perth’s broadcast of game two so he could “yell and scream from the stands like all of the other Hawks fans”.