Former Tall Black captain Judge MacDonald enters Māori Sports Hall of Fame

By James Perry

Nowadays he's a semi-retired District Court Judge, however, John MacDonald was the Tall Blacks captain when they beat Australia for the very first time 41 years ago.

This weekend he and 5 others will be inducted into Te Whare Matapuna o Te Ao Māori - Māori Sports Hall of Fame at the 29th Māori Sports Awards.

Born into the strong MacDonald sporting family from Rangitāne in the upper South Island, John played the usual sports growing up, but basketball was his passion:

"I was always a rugby player and a cricketer and all these other things, but basketball you could play on your own and for me all I needed was a basketball hoop and a basketball and I'm free and happy all day. Someone else turns up, we play one on one, another couple more we play two on two, then we play three on three."

He first played for New Zealand in 1969 and retired 13 years later. His career included the historic 67-65 win over Australia in 1978, two years after the Boomers had finished 8th at the Basketball World Championships.

He will be the first basketballer to be inducted into Te Whare Matapuna o Te Ao Māori, and just as his playing career paved the way for many other fine Māori basketball players that followed, he expects that he won't be the last:

"I'm sure more will come. I first played for New Zealand in 1969. I think Stan Hill, my former teammate was still not even a teenager by then. Pero Cameron wasn't born till five years later. So being the first is quite an honour," MacDonald says.

A Point Guard, MacDonald was consistently topping the points scoring stats. Such was his strength in the position, that the New Zealand NBL have had a trophy named in his honour since 1985, awarded to the Most Outstanding NZ Guard.

With scores level and only seconds left on the clock, MacDonald put up the final shot in that second test against Australia. His shot missed, but John Hill was able to secure the put-back and seal the famous victory. MacDonald says his plan was to take the shot, and even if it missed he hoped to draw a foul that would see him have two free shots to win the game.

"I always reckon I was fouled on the shot - bit of an ugly shot at the three throw line there, but it missed slightly, John was up there to tip it in and yeah, unbelievable feeling at that stage. And I think when you see that old footage the crowd went wild, people still remember that night," MacDonald reminisces about that night 41 years ago.

John MacDonald might be the first basketballer to be inducted into Te Whare Matapuna o Te Ao Māori, but he isn't the first MacDonald. His uncle John Hoani (Jack) was inducted in 2008. "He was always regarded as the most famous MacDonald, really." the younger MacDonald says, "I mean he won gold and silver in the rowing in the first Empire Games, 1928. He carried the flag for New Zealand in Los Angeles Olympics 1932 and got fourth in the rowing. And then, of course, he played rugby, rugby league."

And even now we are seeing that strong MacDonald sporting gene on the sporting stage. Jamie Joseph and Leon MacDonald are both close relations of Judge John MacDonald.

The Māori Sports Awards will be held tonight in Auckland.