A man who changed the game of basketball in New Zealand – such a description was common among the thread of eulogies and speeches on Friday at the funeral of Kiwi playing great Kenny McFadden.
The New Zealand basketball community was shaken last Friday by the news of McFadden’s death at 61, but a week later they united with Wellington to bid farewell to one of their own.
Despite being a so-called private man, McFadden’s influence on the sport in Aotearoa was visible to the thousands who showed up at Newtown Park – and tuned in from around the world – for a final send-off. .
There were speeches from Wellington Saints owner Nick Mills, NBL great Kerry Boagni and many more.
One thing that united all of McFadden’s memories was his undying love of basketball and his unwavering support for any boy or girl who walked through the door at six in the morning and was ready to go to work.
“He had his hand up and the kids were running around and touching his hand, but he would never have reached out,” Mills said.
“He never wanted anything in return.”
His legacy should live on through his academy as well as his former students now benefiting from American scholarships, such as Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones from the University of Hawaii.
Tait-Jones shone in his first year since leaving Wellington, being named PacWest Conference Rookie of the Year and earning first-team honors after leading the Vulcans in points, rebounds, steals and blocked shots.
“I’m coming back for you, Kenny,” said an emotional Tait-Jones.
“I dedicate this season to you, and I will do so by honoring you and changing my number from 15 to 5.
“This one’s for you Kenny, I love you.”