2001 - PLAY OFF CHAMPIONS
History in the making
Leicester Riders, founded on April 26th, 1967, are the oldest professional club in British Basketball, having been founding members of the National Basketball League (NBL) in 1972 and the British Basketball League (BBL) in 1987.
They were originally known as the Loughborough All-Stars, founded by students and lecturers at Loughborough University on 26 April 1967.
Vaughan Thomas, a Wales and GB international, created a team that included the best players the East Midlands had to offer.
1972 marked the founding of the National League, of which the All-Stars were among six competing teams. They remained in the league for seven seasons, before briefly departing for two seasons as a non-league club.
They rejoined in 1981, this time at the Granby Halls in Leicester.
Near the start of the 90s, the Riders made the second National Cup Final of their then 24-year history.
The competition has run since 1936, and this iteration saw the Riders take on the Sunderland Saints at the London Arena.
The Riders lost 88-81, led by Gene Waldron’s 26-point effort, but returned a decade later to win the Cup against the Greater London Leopards in an 84-82 thriller.
They would have to wait a decade to return to the big stage.
After the demise of Granby Halls, the club were forced to leave Leicester in the summer of 2000, taking up residence at Loughborough University for their home games, just a stone’s throw away from where the club played their first-ever game, at Victory Hall.
After finishing bottom of the Northern Conference, with just 10 wins from 36 games, the 2001/02 campaign proved to be a complete contrast as the Riders lifted their first pieces of silverware.
Billy Mims’ team recorded an 84-82 victory against the London Leopards to lift the BBL Cup, finished fourth in the Northern Conference, and became the lowest-ranked team to win the playoffs. Wins against the Chester Jets and London Towers set up the final against Sheffield Sharks, where an 84-75 victory saw them complete the double.
Although the Riders struggled in subsequent years, the summer of 2004 did see them return to Leicester, as they entered into a deal with DeMontfort University, which would see the University’s John Sandford Sports Centre become the club’s home venue from September 2004 onwards. The next two seasons both saw the team experience playoff action, and they reached the BBL Trophy Final in 2006.
In 2007 the club came under new management. With the support of Midlands housing giant Jelson Homes, they saw the start of a new era for the riders. In 2008 Rob Paternostro took over as head coach, recording the club’s highest-ever league position and best-ever win-loss record.
The American/Italian won the Molten BBL Coach of the Year Award in his first season as a BBL head coach, as his team finished third in the regular season, and they had a dramatic last-gasp quarterfinal playoff win over the Sheffield Sharks. They were defeated in the semi-final by Everton Tigers.
2012/13 proved the Riders’ most successful season to date, winning a historic treble. The side beat arch-rivals Newcastle Eagles in the BBL Cup Final in front of a packed Birmingham NIA, and followed that by edging out their North-East counterparts to win both the BBL Championship title and the BBL Playoff Final at the Wembley Arena.
Rob Paternostro was named as BBL Coach of the Year and Drew Sullivan was named most valuable player, with American point guard Jay Couisnard finishing runner-up. The Riders carried on their success, picking up three Championship titles, three trophy final wins and two play-off final victories from 2013 – 2018.
January 2016 saw the club move into the purpose-built Morningside Arena. Soon after winning the treble in the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons, the Riders applied to compete in the following Basketball Champions League season. The team were eliminated early on in the competition by Danish side Bakken Bears, resulting in having to compete in the season’s FIBA Europe Cup. In that same season, they went on to win the play-off final at the O2 arena in front of 16,000 people.
They followed up the following season, winning the BBL Playoffs in 2019, beating the London City Royals 93-61 in the final. The following season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Riders came back to win the BBL Championship in 2021.
Following up their 2013 treble with another in 2017, the Riders made it three in ten years in 2022.
After winning the league a year prior, the Riders returned with a bang to take home the BBL Cup, BBL Championship, and BBL Playoffs.
With a 25-2 record, they dominated the league, before beating the London Lions in the Playoff final 78-75, led by back-to-back BBL MVP Geno Crandall’s 23 points, to cap off another historic year.