Bakken Bears show pride in Danish basketball

Bakken Bears is a club that has not only put Aarhus in the map, but  with 14 DM titles and 10 trophies, they continuously try to raise the level and entertainment of basketball in Denmark.

by Katja Scheibler, photos by Giang Pham

It’s game night, and not a usual match at the Ceres Arena in Aarhus. It’s the Bakken Bears’ last game in the Basketball Champions League against Turkish team Banvit, the second in the group. The audience took their seats and barely filled half of the stadium. Cheerleaders took to the court to welcome fans with a short dance performance.

The Bakken Bears formed a circle to heighten spirits; the last ritual in this year’s Champions League. The first set of players entered the court. The game was on. The opponents from Bandirma were dominating the field from the beginning on and made fast points.

A tough battle or even the dominance by the Turks was to be expected. Still, Bakken Bears supporters, like Peter, didn’t let their team down.

“Bakken Bears needs much more fans, especially in difficult tournaments like Champions League,” he said.

Developing the sport in Denmark
Most of the people we interviewed were not hard-core fans, but were watching the game as an event, like ‘boy’s night out’ or just classic family time.

“The major sports in Denmark are football and handball. No doubt, the trend for basketball rises, but it is still not one of the big sports in Denmark,” said Kasper, who frequently visits Bakken Bears games with his father because they are both proud of the achievements of their local team and feel kind of bound to support them. However, even though Kasper loves to watch basketball, he would rather play football himself.

Another Bakken Bears supporter, Henrik, is totally aware that basketball is not a big thing in Denmark.

“Since we are a little country, we are not excited about uncommon sports like basketball and American football, so we just stick to football and handball,” he said.

Both Kasper and Henrik grew up in little villages and played football since they were kids.

“Grass is everywhere; wherever there is grass we play football. But basketball courts are quite rare in Denmark and so [are] the chances for professional basketball.”

From Lystrup to pro
Morten Sahlertz is one of the Danish Bakken Bears athletes who succeeded in becoming a professional basketball player. He started to play basketball in his hometown Lystrup and took the sport to another level by moving to Aarhus to join the youth team of the Bakken Bears. After he demonstrated his capability in the national youth team, he started playing professional for the Bakken Bears. His career continued in the Danish League with the club Horsens IC and furthermore abroad in Norway. It has been four years since his return on the Bakken Bears team.

Morten Sahlertz high-fives his teammates as the Bakken Bears get ready to battle on the court.

Morten Sahlertz high-fives his teammates as the Bakken Bears get ready to battle on the court.

However, even though Sahlertz reached his goals, he does not have any illusions regarding basketball in Denmark.

“When I was a kid, the youth support for aspiring talents was quite low but the situation is about to change,” he said. Denmark has been recently developing particular schools where students attend basketball lessons as a main subject and hence can completely concentrate on the sport.

It is a step forward, but still quite far from the standards in the United States, the top basketball country in the world.

US Basketball vs. Denmark’s

Mike Gesell, one of Bakken Bears’ point guards, has benefited from the fully developed youth support system in the US. Gesell got hold of a full ride scholarship for the University of Iowa and proved himself as a strong team leader of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Asking Sahlertz to compare the NBA with the Danish Basketball League he illustrates: “The level in the Danish League is much lower. Players of many of the teams are semi-pros who still study or work to make a living, while on the NBA, the athletes are able to completely focus on the sport.”

This was seen in the Bakken Bears’ game against Banvit, a team from Turkey, ranking no. 8 in the world. They were down 46-26 as early as half time, and ultimately lost 92-68 at the buzzer.

Bakken Bears’ John Williamson fights for the rebound against Banvit’s big men under the rim

An exciting future
Despite the lopsided score, however, the fans all agreed with one thing: basketball is thrilling with constant excitement. The Danish fans calmly enjoyed the match as their Turkish counterparts waved flags and cheered.

Cold chocolate milk, a banana, and a kiss from their girlfriends were waiting for the players after the game. They have no time to waste, because they need to be ready again to concentrate on their main goal: the Danish Championship.

Gesell, the point guard from the US, is confident about their chances in the tournament.

“I definitely think we can win the Danish Championship this year. We’ve got a lot of talent in this team, and we are all hard working guys,” he said.

John Williamson, a big man also from the US, had a high score of 21 points in his debut game for the Bakken Bears. His bright showing raises the expectations for the team’s future achievements.

“We will start on another level,” said head coach Steffen Wich. “It is not the end of the Champions league; it is just the beginning.”

The Champions League took place at the Ceres Arena on January 25th. Follow Bakken Bears on Facebook or visit their website for upcoming matches. 

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