Former Boomers star Matt Nielsen is set to receive the ultimate accolade from the club where he launched his career.
At the Sydney Kings's clash with Wollongong Hawks on Saturday night at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, Nielsen will be officially added to the Kings' Wall of Legends, joining the club's favourite sons, Steve Carfino, Mark Dalton, Shane Heal, Damian Keogh, Tim Morrissey and Dean Uthoff, ex-coach Bob Turner and former owner, the late Mike Wrublewski.
The triple Olympian is one of two influential figures in Kings history who will this year be announced as club legends as part of celebrations marking 25 years since the Sydney team's first NBL game.
"I started playing there when I was 17," the 208-centimetre forward said. "In my first year I played with Dean Uthoff and Damian Keogh and those guys, and I was at high school, catching a train to practice. I was just a novice trying to live a dream. As the years went on I got my opportunities and things went from there."
Nielsen wore No.44 because, he said, his favourite player was star Kings import, shooting guard Dwayne McClain, who played in Sydney between 1991 and 1993.
"There was Carfino, Ken McClary, Uthoff, the Dalton boys . . . That's when I started following basketball. It was a great environment to go and watch the games. I tried to create my own path afterwards, but that was definitely where my love of basketball came from."
Not that it was an easy path. Nielsen recalls the tough times he and his teammates endured in his early days at the club, as they struggled for consistency and wins.
"For the first five or so years I was there it was really hard work," he said. "We had teams that were very unsuccessful. It was hard, as a kid, to work through that. It was a frustrating time. We would put in the effort but the results didn't go our way.
"Early on I think I played with about 30 imports and there was one season when we had seven imports, which was a pretty interesting situation. But over time we dug in and had some great success. It was great to be a part of that, winning championships. It was all worth it because it was a childhood dream to play for Sydney. To reap the benefits of hanging around was great."
Nielsen left the Kings in 2004 at the peak of his powers after eight seasons and headed to Europe, where he played in Greece, Lithuania, Spain and Russia.
"It got to the point where I felt like I'd done everything I wanted to do. There was two championships, I got the MVP and MVP of the finals. At 25 I understood I could maybe continue with that or I could take on the next challenge. It was never easy to walk away because I'd had such a great time, had done a lot of hard years and was leaving when we became successful."
Nielsen retired last year. He said he still loves basketball but no longer felt fully committed. He coaches at a school in Perth and helps out at the Perth Wildcats.
"When you finish playing you sit back and think about years ago, all those games and those players," he said. "I had such great memories as a player. It was a long road and I'm pretty proud of the time I had with Sydney."
The story Sydney Kings stalwart Matt Nielsen to officially become a legend first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.