The Canberra Capitals entered the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) in 1986, having won the Australian Women’s Basketball Conference the previous year. The Capitals teams origin extends back to participating in the Australian Capital Territory local basketball competitions in the early eighties and then as the ACT’s representative team in the then Australian Women’s Basketball Championships.
The Capitals first thirteen years in the WNBL were inauspicious, making the playoffs just once, in 1992, between the 1986 and 1998/99 seasons. Since then the Capitals have won back-to-back WNBL championships on 3 separate occasions and after winning their first WNBL championship in the 1999/2000 when, coincidently, this was the first year that Carrie Graf Head Coached the team and Lauren Jackson first played with the Capitals along with a number of young players from the AIS program who went on to become Australian Opals.
That year with the injection of the now legendary coach Carrie Graf, the Capitals began their path towards becoming the most successful WNBL club of the 21st century. Since, the team has achieved iconic status within both the sporting and general communities in Canberra, acclaimed Australia wide as a leading women’s sporting organisation and are now seven-time WNBL Champions, one of the most successful women’s sporting clubs throughout Australia, and Canberra’s most successful sporting team.
The Canberra Capitals have been awarded the Keys to the City of Canberra on 3 separate occasions, in 2000, 2002 and 2007 and will forever be etched into the foundations of the Canberra Community having their legacy immortalised with an official plaque on the ACT Walk of Honour in 2012.
The Capitals claimed their first WNBL title in Graf’s inaugural year at the helm being 1999/2000, defeating Adelaide 67-50, finished runners-up in 2000/2001, won their second title in 2001/2002 also under Graf, before becoming back-to-back champions the following year under the guidance of former Australian Opals Head Coach Tom Maher.
Graf returned in 2003/2004 after fulfilling a number of coaching roles abroad and the Capitals progressed to the semi-finals. Maher returned the following year where they missed the playoffs, while Graf took over as head Coach of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA. When Graf return after only one year, she immediately brought that winning culture back to the city of Canberra and the Capitals went on to win the club’s fourth championship in seven years, defeating Dandenong 68-55 after surviving 83-81 in OT against Adelaide in the semi-finals in 2005/2006.
The club became back-to-back premiers for the second time in 2006/2007 when Graf lead a team not expected to reach the dizzying heights of years gone by to the clubs fifth championship success in the past eight years over the Sydney Flames in a Grand Final, played in the sweltering February heat at Penrith, with Graf deservedly being named Coach of the Year.
After being knocked out of the play-offs in 2007/2008, the team instantly reclaimed the title by defeating the Bulleen Boomers in front of a sell-out crowd at the AIS Arena, when 4,883 roaring Canberrans came out to witness the Capitals take their 6th title and to this day that stands as a record for any WNBL Grand Final. The 2008/2009 championship win over the Bulleen Boomers was the start of a 3 year period where these 2 teams dominated the WNBL and would fight each other out in the grand final for the coming seasons. The Capitals would claim back to back for a 3rd time in their history when, in the 2009/2010 Grand Final with a relatively unchanged team from the previous championship, they defeated Bulleen at the State Netball Centre in Melbourne. This Grand Final saw the coming of age of local Canberra junior Natalie Hurst as a true dominant guard in the WNBL and launched her international career. This season will also be remembered for the return of Lauren Jackson to Australian shores and where it all began for her, the WNBL. While only playing the last 10 games, she quickly reminded every sports fan of what a truly great athlete she had become and this was testament by her winning the WNBL Grand Final MVP.
In the club’s 26 year WNBL existence, some of the Australian Opals best ever players have called Canberra home including Tully Bevilaqua, Jenny Cheesman, Sue Geh, Lucille Bailie (Hamilton), Fiona Robinson, Shelley Sandie, Jenny Whittle, Eleanor Sharp, Abby Bishop, Suzy Backtovic, and global superstar Lauren Jackson.
In her six years with the Capitals, Jackson dominated the league and developed into the best female basketballer on the planet. After leading the AIS to the 1998/99 Championship, Jackson joined the Capitals in 1999/2000 season where she was named league MVP for the first of three times (1999/00, 2002/03, 2003/04) and won the first of four WNBL titles with the club. She developed a huge fan group and brought much attention to female sport, in particular basketball, and has enjoyed a simply outstanding international career for the Opals and is a two-time WNBA MVP. Lauren returns to Canberra to commence the first of a 3 year commitment to the City of Canberra for the 2012-13 season, coming off a successful Olympic campaign.
She is three-time ACT Sport Star of the Year and four-time ACT Female Sports Star of the Year while Graf has taken out the ACT Coach of the Year award three times and the team has been ACT Team of the Year four times.
The Canberra Capitals originated from within the basketball community and have always been enshrined by the community, being owned and managed by UC Life! at the University of Canberra. Emerging from the structure of local basketball with strong heritage based in Basketball ACT, the Capitals continue to maintain a strong and productive relationship with grass roots and community basketball in the Canberra region. Whilst their new relationship with the University of Canberra connects the team to flexible working, living and studying arrangements through the University so that they are able to have a stronger focus on basketball while at the same time preparing for life after basketball. Their representation and success on national and international levels has allowed them the opportunity to establish a national profile with a local focus.