Brisbane’s Cameron Bairstow is living his NBA dream.
The 24-year-old power forward, who grew up in Runcorn on Brisbane’s south side, has just finished his rookie NBA season with the Chicago Bulls.
Much like fellow Aussie Matthew Dellavedova, who shot to fame during the NBA Playoffs with the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s Cameron’s work ethic – not his natural talent – that enables him to compete at the highest level.
“I think that’s in our culture,” Cameron says. “It’s what we have to do to be successful. We don’t have the same kind of talent pool as other countries, with our very small population and so many guys going to the football codes, so we pride ourselves on getting ahead of the competition by playing harder and playing tougher.”
While legends like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have fostered images as workaholics consumed with winning at all costs, Cam found that the reality of life in the league was a lot different.
“It’s just a job for a lot of these guys,” he says. “At the end of the day, I think it’s the talent level that really differentiates the Americans from other countries, the level of athleticism, that kind of thing. Seeing some of the Australians work, I think we’ve got a really good work ethic, and that’s something we pride ourselves on. The difference between the NBA and other leagues isn’t work ethic, it’s just that extra level of talent and athleticism.”
Cameron recently returned to Brisbane to coach young players at a Basketball Queensland workshop at QAS (Queensland Academy of Sport) Indoor Sports Hall.
“I didn’t get picked for QAS and those kinds of programs,” Cameron says, “but I felt like being included in those programs would have helped. Now it’s about having a chance to give back to young Australian players who are in a similar situation to what I was in when I was growing up. I’m trying to teach them what I’ve learned so far and help their progress as basketball players.”
As a kid, Cameron’s interest in basketball was fostered by attending NBL games — an option that sadly isn’t available to Brisbanites today.
“Yeah, I used to watch the Bullets growing up,” he remembers. “It’s disappointing to see there isn’t a local team in South-East Queensland anymore. Those were the heroes I had growing up, so it is pretty disappointing. Having a team and having programs that funnel into that team definitely helps kids in the area and gives them something to aspire to, other than just the NBA and overseas leagues.
“Youth basketball is strong in Australia, in general, but (the lack of a strong local league) definitely leads kids to other codes when it comes time to start making real decisions about their athletics careers. I think it definitely helps the young players to get some exposure to professional basketball.”
It sounds cheesy, but ultimately, the most important lesson Cam was able to pass on to the young players at the Basketball Queensland workshop was to believe in themselves.
“I think I always believed I could be in the NBA, even when other people didn’t think so,” he explains. “I had a dream, and I thought I could do what it took to accomplish it. It’s really a marathon. At the end of the day, youth basketball doesn’t really mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. It’s the guys who just continue to work, like Delly, who make careers for themselves.”