BBL Snapshot is a Double Clutch content series looking at the most iconic images, history and stories from the British Basketball League
There are certain championships that stick with you, and it didn’t take long for Billy Mims to show off one of the most important moments in his career over a Zoom call. “I have a basketball in here that has the actual date of the game on it.”
The former Leicester Riders coach spoke fondly about his time in the UK from his office in Florida. He said: “In 2000, I got a call from Kevin Routledge, the chairman of the Leicester Riders, because they were struggling. And I obviously wanted to be back on the sideline in the BBL.”
He had previously experienced success on the sidelines with the London Leopards but the Riders presented a unique challenge, as Mims explained: “They were the and a lot of my friends at the time said, ‘oh, man, don’t go there. You can’t win there. They’ve never won there.’
“It was true. They’d been close a few times, but they’d never won. And my friends thought that reminding me of that would make me not take the job, but it only motivated me more. Yeah, I love it when people tell me that there are things I can’t do.”
Under Mims’ leadership, the team soon turned things around pretty quickly. After being taken on at the end of 2000 when the team was in a losing hole to begin the season, he had the team firing on all cylinders by the BBL Cup on 7 January, when Mims would coach the Riders against his former team, the London Leopards, at Sheffield Arena.
The game could not have finished more dramatically, and Leicester left South Yorkshire with a two-point victory and the city’s first piece of BBL silverware. Mansoor Ahmed caught the moment on camera and said: “Sometimes, taking pictures is not about capturing the action but the reaction. Whether it’s a big buzzer beater or when the buzzer sounds – these are the best moments.”
The victory was a dramatic moment for the Riders, but after the buzzer, the team hunted down their coach.
Ahmed said: “Everyone just piled on top of each other. The moment that was amazing, and as luck would have it, I was in the right place at the right time.”
Being mauled by Ralph Blalock, Larry Johnson, Billy Singleton, Malcolm Leak, Karl Brown, Freddie Cole and Robert Clarke resulted in bruised ribs for Mims. He said: “The old saying is that there’s agony in defeat, but on this occasion there was agony in winning.”
The celebrations didn’t stop there. While the team’s regular season record was a mediocre 17-19, the majority of those losses came in the first half of the season before Mims joined the team. In the second half of the season, the Riders had the best record in the league. But a winning percentage of 47.2% meant they were largely written off going into the playoffs. Many called their run to the Finals a Cinderella story, but winning the double showed the quality of that year’s team just had to be unleashed by the head coach.
Mims would remain with the Riders for a few more seasons, and that first BBL Cup win kicked off a run of success that has seen them challenge for a top spot most years. But winning that first title meant so much to the championship-starved fans in Leicester, and the joy Mims and his players felt was something else. The coach said: “I’ve won a lot of games in the past 40 years. I’ve coached a lot of great players. I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of wonderful people. But that is certainly one of the greatest moments for me in that 40-year history.”