After debuting in the Conference Basketball League in 1981 with players such as Al Robson, Stan Hill and John "Dutchie" Rademakers, the Canterbury Rams were one of eight foundation sides for the National Basketball League's inaugural season in 1982. Over the first four years, the league was dominated by the North Island sides, Auckland and Wellington, who won two titles each. Most sides, including the Rams, struggled to attract quality players due to the appeal of the North Island cities and the job opportunities offered.
The Rams ended up dominating the NBL in the subsequent years. From 1986 to 1994, the Rams played in seven grand finals, winning four of them. This successful nine-year tenure was thanks to stand-out American players like Eddie Anderson, Angelo Hill and Clyde Huntley. Other players to play a key role during this era were local players such as Terry Brunel, Glen Denham, Gilbert Gordon, John Hill, John Rademakers, Graham Timms, Chris Tupu, Ian Webb, Ralph Lattimore, and another star American import in Kenny Perkins (father of NBA player Kendrick Perkins). The architects of this success were coaches Gary Pettis, who led the team from 1986 to 1988, and Keith Mair, who took over in 1989.
Following a down period between 1995 and 1998, the Rams returned to title contenders in 1999. This was combined with their move to the Westpac Arena for the 1999 season. There was a great deal of anticipation before the season in Christchurch, with the Rams faithful hoping for some silverware after not having won a title since 1992. This was combined with an exciting roster consisting of American Clifton Bush, Canadian Robert Wilson, and an up-and-coming team of kiwis like David Langrell, Jason Kyle and Craig Farrant. The Rams started the 1999 season slowly, but made the playoffs with a 10–6 record. They went on to make the grand final, where they were defeated 79–72 by the Auckland Rebels.
There was a massive clean-out by the Rams under new management following the 1999 season. Dr John Watson took over the Rams organisation in 2000 from Canterbury Basketball Association. Head coach Bert Knops was replaced by Matt Ruscoe for the 2000 season, and most of the cast from 1999 were not retained. The Rams fielded an extremely young roster and this showed in their play, finishing second last with only two wins against North Harbour and Otago. The 2001 season saw much improvement, finishing the year with a 7–9 record.
For the 2002 season, owner John Watson took over as head coach and successfully recruited league legend Terrence Lewis from the Wellington Saints. The Rams subsequently had a great year in 2002, with Lewis and fellow American John Whorton combining to create one of the best import duos in the league. Whorton and Lewis were the league leaders in scoring all year long, carrying Canterbury to an 11–5 regular season record, good enough for third place. In the semi-final, Canterbury travelled to Hamilton to take on the Waikato Titans. After three quarters, the Rams had a 12-point lead, but things turned ugly in the final quarter as Waikato came from behind to beat the Rams 91–81. Ominously, Lewis did not return to the team in 2003, sighting coaching as a major reason.
In 2003 and 2004, the Rams failed to make the playoffs under the coaching of John Watson and Pete McAllister. After a dismal 2003 season, John Whorton – arguably one of the league's best American players of the decade – was not retained. On June 14, 2003, Whorton scored a league-record 50 points in the Rams' 99–94 victory over the Hawke's Bay Hawks in Napier. His record stood for 12 years until being broken in 2015 by Taranaki Mountainairs import Aaron Fuller, who scored 54 points against the Super City Rangers.
In 2005, under Pete McAllister, the Rams began the season brilliantly with a 5–1 record thanks to the strong play of new imports Mike Gardener and Ryan Prillman. Canterbury started to struggle though as the season progressed and although the team finished with a satisfactory 10–8 record, they narrowly missed out on the final playoff spot, finishing in fifth position. After the 2005 season, Pete McAllister resigned and he was replaced by American Chris Sparks.
Canterbury fielded a very youthful roster in 2006, with half of the squad under the age of 22 and requiring a special dispensation from Basketball New Zealand to compete in the league. The Rams missed the playoffs with a 6–12 record. American import Dennis Trammell was a stand-out for the Rams, as he averaged a league-leading 25.6 points per game, and Jeremy Kench had a break out year with 18 points per game, significantly up on his two point-per-game average from the previous year.
The Rams had a disappointing season in 2007, finishing with a 4–14 record. Point guard Jeremy Kench followed up his breakout 2006 season with another strong season. One of the rare highlights was the improvement of young centre Mike Townsend.
With the departure of Chris Sparks following the 2007 season, Bert Knops, who coached the Rams from 1996 to 1999, was reappointed as coach for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. The Rams returned to their former home arena of Cowles Stadium for the 2008 season, after nine years at the Westpac Arena. This move was very successful and led to a unique atmosphere due to the size of the stadium. The team, however, struggled during the year as they managed just six wins.
Owner John Watson took the Rams over from a cash-strapped Canterbury Basketball Association (CBA) in 2000 and ran it until 2006 when the CBA began a three-year contract to run the team. However, in December 2008, the CBA informed Watson it will not complete the third year of its management contract to run the team due to financial constraints. The Rams subsequently folded and pulled out of the NBL.
In November 2013, the Canterbury Rams were granted a two-year licence by the NBL board to contest in the 2014 and 2015 NBL seasons. The team was set up by a group led by Christchurch businessman Andrew Harrison, the managing director of Koau Capital Partners Ltd and a Basketball New Zealand board member. Dave Harrison, Andrew's brother, was named the head coach for 2014, with Pete McAllister as his assistant.
On 24 January 2014, the Rams announced Glen Dandridge and Matthew Rogers as the two imports for the 2014 season. On 1 February 2014, the rest of the 2014 roster was announced. On 6 April 2014, the Rams made their return to the NBL in an 89–79 loss to the Wellington Saints. In their first game since 2008, the Rams were led by Rogers (24 points), Dandridge (19 points) and Richie Edwards (16 points) in front of a sell-out crowd of 1,300 at Cowles Stadium. The Rams went on to finish the season with a 6–12 record to place ninth, as they missed the playoffs in their first season back.
On 15 August 2014, Mark Dickel was appointed head coach of the Rams after signing a two-year deal. On 5 December 2014, the Rams re-signed star point guard Jeremy Kench, promising swingman Ethan Rusbatch, and "Mr Intangibles" Marty Davison. The team also nabbed combo guard Tony Tolovae, who like Dickel and forward Marques Whippy, joined the Rams from the defunct Otago Nuggets. On 17 January 2015, the Rams announced American swingman Kyle Coston as their first import for the 2015 season. The team also announced the signings of youngsters Sam Timmins, Joe Cook-Green and Jackson Stent. On 9 February 2015, the Rams snared one of the most highly credentialed players in the history of the NBL by signing former NBA big man Mickell Gladness. The Rams also announced the re-signing of 2014 Rookie of the Year Richie Edwards. On 28 April 2015, the Rams released Coston just seven games into the season and replaced him with Jermaine Taylor, another former NBA player. Despite a talented squad, the Rams finished the 2015 season outside the top four with a 9–9 record.
In December 2015, the Rams replaced retiring point guard Jeremy Kench with combo guard, Marcus Alipate, who can play as a local player through his Tongan parentage. Also re-signed for the 2016 season were co-captains Ethan Rusbatch and Marques Whippy, and centre Gareth Dawson. In addition to Kench departing the team, Marty Davison, Joe Cook-Green and Sam Timmins were all announced as not joining the 2016 squad. After having the biggest line-up in the league in 2015, the Rams decided to go smaller in 2016, nabbing two guard imports in Jamie Adams, the brother of Adelaide 36ers' import Jerome Randle, and Nick Wiggins, the brother of 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins. However, just days before the start of the regular season, Wiggins was released by the Rams in favour of 6'5" American power forward Desharick Guidry.
After starting the season 1–1, the Rams were forced to sign an injury replacement for Jamie Adams (ankle), bringing in Justin Graham on a short-term contract. Guidry struggled to make an impact for the Rams over the first five games, and after he sustained his own knee injury, he was released and Adams and Graham paired up for the Rams' Round 4 match-up with the Wellington Saints. However, it was clear Adams had not fully recovered as he struggled against the Saints, going 0-of-8 from the field off the bench. In the days following their loss to the Saints, which dropped them to fifth with a 3–3 record, Adams was ruled out for a further three to four weeks and was again replaced in the line-up, this time by former Nelson Giants guard McKenzie Moore. Another import injury, this time to Graham, in Round 7 saw his departure and Adams' second return from foot and ankle issues. The Rams subsequently fielded Adams and Moore as their import duo in Round 8. Moore and Marcel Jones helped lead the Rams to a playoff berth, an achievement not reached since 2002. In the week leading up to Round 12, Graham won the battle over Adams for the Rams' second import spot for the playoffs. The Rams finished the regular season on a six-game win streak to claim the minor premiership for the first time since 1993 with a 13–5 record. However, they went on to lose their semi-final to the fourth-seeded Super City Rangers, as they were blown out 104–85 despite a 35-point effort from Moore. Moore's efforts during the 2016 season saw him claim the NBL Most Valuable Player Award, while Jones was named Kiwi MVP. Murray McKay (1981–1983)
Darrell Todd (1984–1985)
Garry Pettis (1986–1988)
Keith Mair (1989–1995)
Bert Knops (1996–1999)
Matt Ruscoe (2000–2001)
John Watson (2002–2004)
Pete McAllister (2004–2005)
Chris Sparks (2006–2007)
Bert Knops (2008)
Dave Harrison (2014)
Mark Dickel (2015–present)
Darrell Todd (1981–1983)
Garry Pettis (1984–1985)
Bert Knops (1986–1995)
Phil Burns (1996–1999)
John Watson (2000–2001)
Darren Gravly (2000–2001)
Dave Harrison (2000–2001)
Pete McAllister (2002–2004; 2014)
Dene Robinson (2002–2005)
Clinton Olsen (2005)
Terry Brunel (2006–2008)
Kenny Perkins (2007)
Tim Bennetts (2014)
Caleb Harrison (2015)
Piet Van Hasselt (2015–present)
Ben Sheat (2016–present)
Source: Canterbury Rams Facebook page