Everyone remembers where they were at 2:30 am on August 21st, 2016 when Australia went down horrifically to Spain in the bronze medal Match of the Rio Olympics. The hype train was in full steam after coming second in the group, smashing France and Serbia and coming agonisingly close to downing the USA goliath. So, to lose in such ‘contentious’ circumstances was a heartbreak felt across the nation.
It may have been easy to get down on Australian basketball, not capitalising on their runaway success and exposure of the Olympics. This hasn’t been the case, however, with the NBA, NBL and International Aussies flying the flag, and it seems that Australian basketball is heading for a new golden age.
Here are just a few of the positive events that have increased Australia’s presence in the world stage, and giving hope for all Aussie hoops fans of more to come.
Judging Ferguson by his statistics will not give an accurate measure of the impact that he had on the NBL and Australian basketball. He brought international experience in the shape of NBA scouts and fans. There were more conversations about the NBL from overseas than ever before and much of that had to do with Ferguson. If it wasn’t for Ferguson, Nathan Sobey and Mitch Creek might not have received Summer League invites.
Spurning college for Europe, Bolden proved that he belonged in the NBA with his award-winning play. He was selected at #36 in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, joining Ben Simmons and Brett Brown. Bolden’s selection solidifies that Australia is one of the best countries in the world for young, top tier players to go along with other young guys like Simmons, Dante Exum and Thon Maker.
Speaking of Aussies in the NBA, there were seven players plying their trade in the best league in the world. Aron Baynes, Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, Thon Maker and Patty Mills will make over $57 million next season, the most of any group of Australians in the NBA. They have won four NBA championships, and all are important components for their teams, or when healthy with Bogut.
The seven above are flying the flag for Australia in the NBA, but seeing so many other players being recognised for their talents and playing and training with the best teams in the world is incredible. Eight Australians and twelve NBL imports graced the Summer League courts, showing that this league and country are definite avenues to bigger leagues. For fifteen of those men selected to either have played or coached in the most recent NBL season is a huge endorsement for the quality assembled in Australia.
Not content with winning the NBL Defensive Player of the Year award, Torrey Craig tore up the NBA Summer League with Denver. He averaged 12 points and five rebounds a game, punctuated by a 27 point, 11 rebound outburst in Las Vegas. It’s a glowing acknowledgement of the quality of the NBL, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see more NBL players get a call up in future years.
Mangok Mathiang might not have played in Australia’s premier competition, but his play in Orlando was special enough for the Hornets to sit up and take notice. He was a monster on the rebounds and played with energy and passion that caught the eye of Charlotte coaches.
Death, taxes and Australia playing New Zealand for a spot in the Olympics. It seemed like it was inevitable that the two biggest basketball countries in the Oceanic region would square off for their chance of international glory. The games may have been exciting, but the format grew stale.
Now that both the Boomers and Tall Blacks are fighting it out in the Asian region, it gives Australian basketball the exposure needed in the continent that wouldn’t have come if they followed the status quo. Millions of fans will be watching the FIBA Asia World Cup next week which Australia should dominate, even without their A team. Success in this competition as well as the Olympic Games qualification games should feed positive momentum into other facets, primarily the NBL.
Added publicity from Asia would be fantastic, but the NBL is doing very well for itself. The 2016/17 season had the highest average attendance in over fifteen years. Over the whole season, greater than 8,000 fans watched games live, more than 1,500 above the season before.
In the Grand Final series, Perth had the second highest crowd in the same time span with 13,611 ferocious Red Army fans rocking the stadium. With crowds expanding and more and more people watching games on Fox Sports and NBL.tv, the league is getting the coverage a rising organisation needs to propel itself into a higher level of basketball.
Last NBA Pre-season, the overseas teams were Shanghai Sharks (China), Real Madrid (Spain), FC Barcelona Regal (Spain), Maccabi Haifa (Israel) and San Lorenzo de Almagro (Argentina).
As of August 5th, the overseas teams playing in the upcoming pre-season are Maccabi Haifa (Israel), Melbourne United (Australia), Sydney Kings (Australia) and Brisbane Bullets (Australia). There may be other international clubs that will be added later, but with the NBA downsizing their pre-season schedule to expand the regular season, having three teams from the one country, especially Australia, is one of the biggest things to come out of the NBL is recent memory.
Playing against Utah, Oklahoma City and Phoenix in October is spectacular for not only the league that instantly gains massive amounts of publicity and attention but the players who will be showcased against the best in the business. There is a chance that someone on one of the three NBL teams can make the jump like Torrey Craig has accomplished and sign with an NBA team.
The future is exceptionally bright for Australian basketball, whether it’s on our shores or overseas. The new golden age is speeding towards us, and it would be in everyone’s best interest to jump on board from the get-go. The heartbreak of the Olympics will just make this country stronger and should use that anguish to push through to the Boomers’ first Olympic medal in Tokyo in 2020.