To a man, Giants fans rose to pay tribute to one of basketball's greats when Phill Jones played his final home game last night.
The standing ovation from the capacity crowd in Saxton Stadium was just one element in a memorable evening as the Nelson Giants captain called an end to a 22-year career in the National Basketball League.
He's played more games - 368 - than any other player and has more than 350 of them in the Giants strip after making his debut as a schoolboy in 1993. The two-time Olympian has also scored more points than any other Kiwi player and is second overall in league scoring history.
The Giants were not going to let those kinds of records slip past unnoticed.
Jones led the team on to the court in darkness to the first standing ovation of the evening and then received a powerful haka in his honour, led by Josh and Chez Bloxham and the coach of last night's opposing team, Southland's Paul Henare.
After the game, won 101-89 by the Giants, he was named the winner of the People's Choice award before the Nelson organisation called on his family; wife Kat, children Maia, Hayden and Ava, parents John and Carol, brother Johnno and sister-in-law Megan, to be part of the formal farewell.
Jones' No 13 playing strip was retired, meaning no other Giant can wear that number, and he was presented with a carved mere from the NBL administration by his former Nelson College coach, Bill Dahlberg.
Although Jones will lead the Giants into the playoffs in Wellington next weekend, he said he had to finally admit that his career was ending, at 40.
"I made my decision early in the season so this day wouldn't seem too scary, but now we're here and it has been a surreal night," he said.
"There were times when I thought the emotion of it would get the better of me.
"One of our longtime supporters left the hospice to come to tonight's game.
"I went over to give her a kiss before the game and suddenly things got very misty.
"Looking up at the people on their feet for me was unforgettable."
Jones made the initial decision to end his NBL career back in April but, after scoring 21 points in last night's win, admits he might have been hasty.
"People have been asking over and over if this is really it and I said 'yes . . . I think so'.
"You never say never, but Dad told me everything has an end at some time."
He said Nelson's fans had been a huge part of his loyalty to the team over more than two decades.
"It was nice to see no empty seats here tonight and I've shaken a lot of hands," he said.
"I've been lucky enough to do something I love for a long time but I feel like I've shared that with thousands of Nelson people over the years."
- The Nelson Mail
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