For some, pursuing your dreams means getting out of Redfern but, in Biwali Bayles’ case, it meant coming home.
Home is The Block, those 8000 square metres in inner-city Sydney that, despite a recent gentrification, are still the heartbeat for a large Aboriginal community.
For a long time it was all Bayles had known since shifting from Brisbane “when I was one or two”. That was until his prowess on the basketball court took the teenager, via the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, all the way to the University of Hawaii.
There he experienced another part of the globe and the college lifestyle, all while shooting hoops in Hawaii.
“Completely different lifestyle, everything completely different,” he says. “It took some getting used to. I can’t really explain, it was just different.”
There were reminders of home all over his body. The “2016” tattoo on his legs representing the postcode of Redfern, or the names of his family members – mother Binowee and younger brothers Tino and Tiga – inscribed on his ribs.
Sydney Kings player Biwali Bayles at The Block.Credit:Edwina Pickles
They proved sources of inspiration when the stresses of homework and hoops were taking their toll, especially when Bayles wasn’t getting the court time he deserved for the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
“I don’t want to say that I felt like I wasn’t appreciated and didn’t enjoy it,” he said. “It was definitely a good experience that I learnt from. I feel I got better and I’m thankful for giving me the opportunity but, at the end of the day, I didn’t really feel like it was for me.
“I felt like I was pretty limited. I don’t want to say anything bad, but yeah.”
So when the chance presented itself to return and play for home-town team the Sydney Kings this season, there was no decision to make.
Bayles draws attention to another tattoo, of the word “Blessed”, to express what the latest opportunity means. It is also the chance to represent where he has come from, to show his younger siblings that they and every other Indigenous kid raised in Redfern can realise their dreams.
“That’s why I’m so big on trying to put my area on the map,” he says. “I know there’s a lot of footy players there doing the same thing. If we can shed more spotlight on that – to get more kids into basketball and footy – and make the right decisions to show them there are other ways to make money and be successful.
“That’s why it’s important to me, showing them that there are other ways.”
Bayles once wanted to be a famous footballer himself. He was such a superfan of former Broncos outside back Jharal Yow Yeh that, until recently, his Facebook account was “Biwali Yow Yeh Bayles”.
“I come from a footy background; I get our area being Aboriginal, that was our main sport,” he says. “I was good at it, too.”
His mother suggested he give basketball a go and Bayles found he was pretty good at that as well.
“It was my mum’s dream [to play],” he says. “I don’t want to say unfortunately, but she fell pregnant with me at 16. She had to stop playing.
“I took a break from footy, my mum kept pushing basketball and I fell in love with it.”
There are few more promising prospects in Australian basketball. Bayles helped Australia secure gold at the 2019 FIBA under-17 Oceania Championships, averaging 9.5 points and three assists a game. He was also one of just four Australians selected to attend the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp in Chicago last year. And the 19-year-old is one of the reasons the Kings have been installed as the favourites to take out the National Basketball League championship, a campaign that starts against Melbourne United at Qudos Bank Arena at 3pm on Sunday.
Sydney Kings player Biwali Bayles at The BlockCredit:SMH
If it appears the rookie guard has some of the swagger of an Anthony Mundine, it will come as little surprise to learn that “The Man” is a close friend and mentor.
“I’ve known Biwali pretty much since he was born,” Mundine says. “He grew up the hard way, a young Aboriginal brother with a dream. He has a dream and I try to mentor him as much as I can to achieve that dream.
“He’s one of the best young talents in Australia – if not top three, definitely in the top five.
“He’s a very confident young man, but he’s not aloof or anything like that. He’s a people person, a very funny character, a great sense of humour.
“He’s not on himself but knows he’s got the goods, you know what I mean?
“I think the future is very bright for him; he can take it as far as he wants.”
Mundine isn’t a blood relative, but Bayles describes him as an “uncle”. The cross-code star is one of many people who provide inspiration, but none more so than his mother.
“I can’t even let you know how much sacrifice my mum made for us to get where we are,” he says, with emotion choking his voice.
“She was always working overtime and stuff like that. A single mum with three kids, she played both roles. I never had a dad, so she obviously did a lot.
“She made sure we never skipped a meal; sometimes she would have to so we wouldn’t. Stuff like that, my mum sacrificed a lot.
“That’s my inspiration.
“Only a small number of people will understand it. She’s the real MVP.
“Hopefully I can take care of her soon so she doesn’t have to work again.
“That’s why I’m so determined to be successful, to be the best I can be. Just to show her that all of the sacrifices are worth it.”
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