Before forming the National Basketball Heritage Centre (NBHC) in 2015, Jenny Collins and John Atkinson had been involved in British Basketball since the late 1960s and early 1970s respectively.
Collins’ basketball career has seen her take up various roles including playing in the English National League and being the first Director of Women for the former English Basketball Association, now known as Basketball England.
However, her most prominent roles were for Northampton teams, where she is currently based.
Collins said: “I have administrated the club in Northampton and we won fourteen national titles on the women’s side. We also had men’s teams and a wheelchair team as well as a junior development programme.”
Atkinson’s involvement in British basketball began when he became a statistician. The men’s National League was formed in 1972 and the women’s league in 1975, Atkinson was integral in both.
Collins said: “John had a great wealth of knowledge and that was his great love and interest. We’ve been friends ever since the 1970s. The beauty with basketball is that we were a great extended family.”
This wealth of knowledge was put to good use when Collins and Atkinson were working at the 2012 London Olympics.
Collins said: “John and I had conversations and we were very aware that actually, the history of basketball in this country and in Great Britain wasn’t documented anywhere really.”
Collins and Atkinson saw this gap and decided to fill it with the basketball resources they had collected over the years.
Building the National Basketball Heritage Centre
When Collins and Atkinson made the decision to create the NBHC in 2012, they enlisted the help of Mick Donovan, a professor at the University of Worcester.
Collins’ son Matt played for the Worcester Wolves in the British Basketball League, so the foundations were laid already.
The University of Worcester were also building a new basketball arena which was finalised in 2013 and the arena also houses the NBHC.
The NHBC is made up of a collection of statistical data, yearbooks, match programmes, magazines and other memorabilia.
Statistics start from the 1947-48 season and run to the present day, covering 26 seasons of Team GB basketball.
Collins said: “All of the stuff that they’ve got there is basically stuff that John and I had with all the years of us being involved [in British basketball] and then friends [donating].
“There is an organisation called the English Basketball Fellowship which is a sort of ‘golden oldies’ and I’m on the board of that, so I got stuff from them. We just sort of gradually collected all of this information.”
The University of Worcester provided funding to PhD students around the same time the NBHC was coming to fruition.
One of these students was Jamie Smith who organised the data on the website. Smith was previously involved in Team GB programmes with England and Wales.
In addition to Smith, Roger Fairman who was in charge of Worcester’s library ‘the Hive’, helped out too. The Hive houses another section of the NBHC, the ‘National Basketball Library’.
Collins said: “[Fairman] knew nothing about basketball but he became very supportive and very enthusiastic about it.”
Favourite Basketball Memorabilia
With a combined 11 decades of basketball experience both in Britain and internationally, Collins and Atkinson have accumulated an impressive collection of basketball memorabilia.
Collins chose her red Converse sneakers as her all-time favourite piece of history. Before the days of Nike, Jordan and Adidas dominating the basketball world, Converse was the go-to brand.
The most known model was the Converse Weapon made famous by the 1986 commercial featuring NBA all-stars Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas.
Collins and Atkinson detailed some other items that they enjoyed collecting over the years.
Collins said: “This is a bizarre thing, but this is one of my favourite trophies and I was given that when I was head of delegation to Portugal with the England Junior Women between the 3rd and 5th of April 1986.”
Atkinson said: “Behind my TV, I’ve got all these Olympic posters, all of these basketball Olympic posters going back to year dot, 2004 back to 1896.”
The business of collecting memorabilia has become more serious in recent times. In May 2021 a game worn Michael Jordan North Carolina jersey sold for a record $1.38m (£1m).
However, Atkinson wants to use the items he has collected over the years to assist the next generation.
Atkinson said: “There are some other people with amazing collections of basketball stuff. We’re not into that, we’re heritage people.
“I put my life’s work into the University of Worcester, as a national centre. I could have sold it, I could have done what those people did but I didn’t, the sport is more important than me.”
With the easing of lockdown in England, volunteers at the University of Worcester can continue adding to the NBHC thus making basketball a more important sport in Britain.