One giant step for hoops
Australian basketball is headed for its moon landing moment. The countdown has already begun, and this time next year we could be basking in the glory of one of the greatest ever achievements in Australian sport.
The official big-stage launch of the Boomers’ China World Cup gold medal quest will take place in Australia next August, with two historic warm-up games against Team USA at a reconfigured 60,000-seat Marvel Stadium in Melbourne. The full-strength Aussie team, jam-packed with NBA stars such as Ben Simmons and Joe Ingles, will host a ridiculously talented collection of American NBA icons, which could include Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
And if the Aussies can somehow unite and rise to defeat the Americans for the first time ever at their own game, it would be a dream come true for Basketball Australia. And it would also be a fiing reward for NBL owner Larry Kestelman, who is the mastermind behind the recent resurgence of the sport in Australia.
But if the Boomers can do the unthinkable, and actually beat the United States to win gold at the World Cup in China next September, or bigger and beer still, the Tokyo Olympics in June 2020, it will change basketball in this country forever. It could allow basketball to plant its flag at the summit of all-time great Australian international sporting moments, surpassing our America’s Cup victory in 1984.
It is well-documented that Australia’s presence in the
NBA has never been stronger. Simmons, Ingles, Aron Baynes, Pay Mills, Dante Exum, Jonah Bolden, Thon Maker, Ryan Broekhoff and Mahew Dellavedova are all forging brilliant careers.
Simmons won rookie-of-the-year last season as the hoest young gun on the planet. Ingles has fast become one of the best three-point shooters in the known universe. And Baynes will have a massive say in Boston’s legitimate quest to dethrone the back-to-back championshipwinning Golden State Warriors.
There is also no doubt that the standard of Australia’s domestic NBL has never been higher. And the gap between the NBA and the NBL has never been smaller.
Our domestic league is now seen as the third-best competition in the world behind the NBA and the Euroleague. And many world-class stars who have fallen just short of an NBA contract are now choosing Australia as the spot to re-launch their NBA quest.
But the big elephant in the room in Australia is the fact that our NBL is only vibrant and flying high because league owner Kestelman is writing the cheques to make it fly. Without Kestelmen, the NBL would not exist. There would be no television deal because the viewer numbers are still low. The star American imports would not be lighting up our venues. Our national competition would be as dead as it was six years ago, before the millionaire with a love of hoops took the reins in an aempt to make it popular again.
Which is exactly why the two games in Melbourne, the Basketball World Cup in China as well as the Tokyo Olympic Games are crucial.
The Boomers have never finished beer than fourth at any major international championship. They failed to bring home a medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, where they were expected to win at least bronze.
Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis, who was at the helm when we crashed in Rio, still has the keys for the coming World Cup and Olympics. Basketball Australia and Kestelman desperately need Lemanis to launch this rocket. Because the Australian sporting landscape is way too competitive for basketball to allow this golden-era opportunity to slip.
Rugby league and AFL will always be our dominant codes. And cricket’s ratings behemoth, the Big Bash, continues to eat every other sport in its path over summer. But if the Boomers can grab gold, kids around Australia will be like American kids in 1965, but instead of telling their mums they want to be an astronaut, they’ll be wanting to be the next Ben Simmons.
The Australian sporting landscape is way too competitive for basketball to allow this golden-era opportunity to slip.