Bursary fund in the name of Olympic basketball star is helping Rockets aim high

A Former Olympic basketball star is set to help players and coaches reach new heights at the Rockets.

Birmingham’s biggest community basketball club has set up a bursary fund in the name of Brisbane Bullets legend Rob Sibley.

The Robert Sibley Bursary Scheme aims to support players and coaches on their basketball journey, especially those who can’t afford to take part in the sport. Details of how to apply and eligibility will be announced soon.

The initiative is the result of a generous donation from US-based entrepreneur Jason Healy, who is a long-term friend of Sibley.

Jason, who used to be Brisbane Bullets’ marketing and public relations manager before becoming a successful entrepreneur, explains: “Sibs always made time to encourage and help kids, including me, during his career, so it’s only fitting that his legacy will be helping kids to have access to the game he loves”.

Sibley, a former Australian Boomer who appeared at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, is keen to support the Rockets thanks to a meeting between him and the club’s Managing Director Rob Palmer almost two decades ago.

Rob Palmer explains: “In 2002 as a young aspiring coach, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to make the trip Down Under to Brisbane with two players from the college programme I was heading up at that time. 

“Club staff at Brisbane Bullets, including Rob Sibley, selflessly took us under their wing and we were treated magnificently, on and off-court, giving us an incredible experience. 

“Little did I realise at the time that the legacy of the trip would resurface almost 20 years later.” 

Sibley played for the Brisbane Bullets during the club’s NBL glory days in the 1980s when the club was the hottest ticket in town. 

The player, who is known as the ‘Baseline Bandit’, made his debut for the Bullets in February 1984 as a 17-year-old and played in the grand final-winning teams of 1985 and 1987 alongside the likes of Leroy Loggins, Larry Sengstock and Ron Radliff. 

He also spent two seasons at the Melbourne Tigers and played a vital role in the club’s first title in 1993 alongside Andrew Gaze and Mark Bradtke and under Master Aussie Coach Lindsay Gaze. 

Sibley played in seven grand finals in an NBL career that spanned 371 games, including 305 with the Bullets, to become the club’s second-most capped player behind Loggins, who had 513 outings in Brisbane colours.

The power forward retired in 1997 but played five more games in 2003 when the club was in the midst of an injury crisis. Sibley also served the club off-court as an operations manager and general manager. 

Unfortunately, the 54-year-old is now facing an off-court battle after developing cancer which started in his bladder and has spread to his kidney. 

He has been undergoing intensive treatment since the tumour was discovered in November 2019. 

Despite all that he is facing the father-of-three is thankful for one small mercy.

“I have so many great memories from my career. Basketball is a brotherhood,” he explains. 

“That bond never leaves you, and I want those benefiting from this bursary scheme to experience that too.’’

Rob Palmer says he is thrilled with the opportunities the funding will provide. 

“My thoughts are firmly with Rob and his family as he fights his latest challenge head-on and I hope we can provide a fitting scheme that reflects the commitment he always showed to the younger generation.

“To set up this scheme due to this generous donation in his name has me so excited and I know it will give Rob a great boost to know that so much good is being carried out in his name.” 

Rockets Ambassador and NBA Legend, Hakeem Olajuwon has been quick to recognise the importance of the funds. “I am so thankful for this donation and the opportunity for us to set up the Robert Sibley Bursary Fund at City of Birmingham Rockets. 

“As a big guy who used the baseline so effectively in his career, I know how tough he would have fought on the court. 

“Now I am aware that he is battling hard once again off the court at this time in his life. From one centre to another, my thoughts and prayers are with him.”

Sibley is keen that the funding allows access to basketball for those who need the support.  

He explains: “I have always had a passion for supporting young people playing basketball.

“As a pro player in Australia, I always felt it important to spend time with young players, either post-game or at club camps and clinics. 

“Having watched the progress of the club from afar since meeting Rob back all those years ago, this scheme set up in my name at City of Birmingham Rockets fills me with great pride and joy and I hope it will be of great benefit to those who could otherwise not afford to take part in our wonderful sport.”