Baldwin and Goorjian Shaped Brotherhood Despite NZ-AUZ Rivalry
When Ateneo de Manila University and Bay Area played a warm-up game at Moro Lorenzo Gym in Quezon City on two Saturdays, Tab Baldwin and Brian Goorjian felt like they were back in high school.
The same goes for Baldwin, who missed seeing Goorjian yell at the refs whenever it was appropriate.
“In the coaching world, you never know what will happen, but it’s always good to run into friends and rivals,” Baldwin said. He didn’t expect to see Goorjian again in Manila, of all places.
“I have always been a coach. They do a great job. Even though Brian and I used to be fierce rivals in Australia and New Zealand, which is as fierce as it gets, you can see how excited he can get, but today he was pretty calm. It was good to see him argue with the officials and get mad at his players, and he told me the same thing. The American-New Zealander head coach said, “It’s fun.”
But Baldwin and Goorjian were not as close as they are now in the 2000s. They were fierce rivals, and the fight between the Tall Blacks and the Boomers almost pushed them out of the way.
The Start of a Fight
Auckland Stars, a team in New Zealand’s National Basketball League, picked Baldwin around the middle of the 1990s.
After a year with the Eastside Spectres in Australia, Goorjian was picked up by the South East Melbourne Magic.
And by chance, South East Melbourne and Auckland did several tune-ups together. Baldwin got a good look at Goorjian’s system at that time.
“That was the first time we talked to each other. I remember that game, how tough they were on defense and how fast they were on offense. I thought that was a great example,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin made sure that he had saved Goorjian’s phone number.
Baldwin went on to win five NZ-NBL championships and be named Coach of the Year four times. During that same ten-year period, Goorjian won two NBL-Australia titles and was named Coach of the Year three times.
Since they were the best in their own countries, they were given the job of running the programs for their national teams.
Yes, Baldwin, born in Jacksonville, Florida, and Goorjian, born and raised in Glendale, California, were in charge of countries far from where they grew up.
It was the beginning of a fight.
Baldwin led the Tall Blacks to a spot in the 2001 FIBA Oceania Championship finals. The Boomers were on the other side of the court, and Phil Smyth was in charge.
When the 1999 tournament was held, New Zealand had only beaten Australia once before. However, they won that year’s game.
This time, the prize was a spot in the 2002 World Championships.
With Baldwin at the helm, the Tall Blacks beat the Boomers in a best-of-three series. The series ended with a masterful 89-78 win by the Tall Blacks in the third and final game, putting New Zealand on the world stage.
It led to Smyth being fired and the Boomers bringing on Goorjian.
Taking care of a rival in need
Baldwin worked briefly with PAOK Thessaloniki in Greece and U Mobitelco Cluj in Romania. He then went to Turkey to coach Kepez Belediyesi.
During the 2009 season, Baldwin and the players’ salaries held for two months because Kepez had trouble making money.
Baldwin wanted to leave Turkey, but he had nowhere else to go, so he stayed there.
He got a call from Goorjian, who was in China coaching Dongguan, all of a sudden.
“I was a coach in Turkey for the second time, and it didn’t go well. The club didn’t pay the players or the coaches, so we all had to leave. Baldwin said, “I didn’t have another job and didn’t know what I was going to do.”
“Suddenly, he called me and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, “I’m looking right now and in the market.” He said the Lebanese national team asked him to be their coach, but he turned them down because he is moving to China. The Lebanese federation called me the next day, flew me in, and before I knew it, they hired me. All of that was because of Brian,” he said.
Baldwin worked for Lebanon for only one year.
A year after that, Baldwin would be coaching Fujian in China. He had another chance to play against Goorjian in a club tournament.
When things were good
Baldwin went to the Philippines after his time in China.
Throughout recent years, he has been in and out of Gilas Pilipinas. And Ateneo, where he has been a coach since 2016, has become his home.
After not seeing each other, Goorjian was happy to see Baldwin well taken care of in an unfamiliar spot, which would likewise be his home for the following couple of months.