While enhancing country Victoria’s standing within the Australian basketball scene, Kristi Harrower had a decorated career both nationally and abroad to leave behind a legacy of a player who defied her physical stature to become one of Australia’s biggest stars.
In 1992, Harrower earned a scholarship with the AIS after emerging with the Melbourne Tigers as a 16-year old in her debut WNBL season and she was a member of the Australian Under-19 team that won gold at the 1993 World Championships for Junior Women which was the country’s first gold medal in international basketball.
The Under-19’s finished the tournament unbeaten with a 7-0 record while Harrower scored in every contest to average 4.9 points per game.
After two seasons with the AIS, the guard made the move to Adelaide and helped the Lightning win the 1994 WNBL Championship with an 84-77 overtime victory against her old club, the Tigers.
Harrower then came back to Melbourne where she truly made her mark on the competition with four consecutive WNBL All-Star appearances from 1997-00.
Becoming Australia’s premier point guard, Harrower took her talents to the WNBA where she played for the Phoenix Mercury from 1998-99, Minnesota Lynx from 2001-05 and the LA Sparks in 2009.
She reached the WNBA finals in her debut season and the following year recorded a career-high three assists per game to go with 4.5 points before starting every game in 2005 while averaging 4.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
Beyond the USA, Harrower also competed in Germany, Russia and France where she enjoyed more success with Valenciennes as she was named a Euroleague Final Four All-Star in 2006 and 2007 while her team finished Runners-Up in the French League the following year.
During that time, the Bendigo Spirit entered the WNBL and Harrower returned to Australia to play for her hometown club as well as under her father, Bernie, as coach.
Her trademarks quickly established the culture of the Spirit as they became known an unselfish team who were willing to sacrifice for the greater good and that led them to seven consecutive playoff appearances with Harrower as their floor general.
She tallied three more WNBL All-Star awards (taking her total to seven) in 2009-10 as well as 2013 when she also earned the Robyn Maher WNBL Defensive Player of the Year award.
Among the accolades for Bendigo, the only thing that eluded her was a WNBL Championship but she capped off an incredible 2013 season with a Grand Final victory for Bendigo over Townsville and the Spirit then defended their title in 2014, again defeating Townsville in the final WNBL game of the year.
Helping to put Bendigo on the sporting map, Harrower’s contribution to the city of Bendigo and country Victoria as a whole enhanced basketball in the region as she finished her career on 329 WNBL games (11th overall all-time) and with 4,199 points (eighth) and 1,503 assists (second).
In addition to her incredible WNBL exploits, Harrower was destined to be an Opal after winning gold with the Under-19 Australian team.
She first represented the national side at the 1998 World Championships where the Opals won a bronze medal and she finished third for assists with 2.3 per game.
Two years later at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, she paced the Opals with 3.8 assists per game and scored a tournament-high nine points against USA in the final as Australia achieved their best ever result to that time at an Olympics with a silver medal.
Her knowledge of the game and ability to control the tempo made her an ideal candidate for the captaincy and Harrower fulfilled that role as well in 2002 when the Opals won another bronze medal at the World Championships.
In 2006, she led Australia to its most significant basketball achievement when the Opals won a World Championship gold medal, defeating Russia in the final with Harrower combining 15 points with five assists and a steal.
The point guard continued to act as play-maker for Australia at the next three Olympics after Sydney, winning two more silver medals in 2004 (when she finished sixth overall for assists) and 2008 (when she led the tournament with 4.4 assists per game) before capping off her international career in 2012 with an Olympic bronze medal.
With almost 300 caps as a national player, Harrower called time on her playing career in 2015 after spending more than 32 years on the basketball court, as she took the next step of her life journey into motherhood.
Kristi Harrower is undoubtedly one of the greatest players to have represented Australia in basketball and her inspirational play, high basketball IQ, tenacity, leadership skills, defensive intensity and play-making abilities make her a once in a generation player.
Harrower will be inducted alongside five other icons into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame on October 27. The Gaze Family, Maher Family, Sandy Blythe and Sue Hobbs medals will also be awarded to the most outstanding members of the Australian Boomers, Opals, Rollers and Gliders respectively.
The 2017 Australian Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Class:
Lucille Bailie (nee Hamilton)
Karen Blicavs (nee Ogden)
Carrie Graf AM