Brian Goorjian has always been the darling of the Australian basketball coaching ranks.
After leading his team with 29 points, three assists and shooting 66.66 per cent from three, the San Antonio Spurs guard led his national team from the front as they defeated an All-Star calibre United States.
This isn’t Patty Mills, however, this is Argentine Manu Ginobili in the 2004 Olympic Games semi-final.
In the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, underdogs Argentina took home the gold medal in the men’s basketball tournament, despite only having one current NBA player on the roster.
At the time, Ginobili had just finished his second year in the NBA in which he averaged 12.8 points, 3.8 assists and a career-high 1.8 steals per game.
By the end of the group stage of the competition, Argentina finished third out of six in Group A, meaning that they just qualified for the quarter-finals.
Their group was dominated by Pau Gasol’s Spain, who went on to lose in the first round of the knockout stage to the United States.
After defeating Greece, the stage was set for what was predicted to be an underwhelming quarter-final between the United States and a ‘lacklustre’ Argentina. Representing the U.S was a rookie LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, as well as Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson, Allen Iverson and many other NBA talents.
Despite being the keen favourites in the tournament, they lost to Argentina 81-89 due to a Ginobili shooting masterclass, finishing 4/6 from 3, 9/13 from the field and 7/8 from the free throw line for the game.
In the final, Ginobili paired up with Luis Scola for a combined 41 points to defeat Italy 84-69 and take home one half of Argentina’s gold medals for the entire games.
In the upcoming 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, Patty Mills and Australia will be looking to mimic Ginobili and Argentina’s performance.
Despite Australia bearing a predominately NBA-based roster, without Ben Simmons they lack a single All-Star.
Nevertheless, the Boomers have defeated their American counterparts in the last two match-ups against them. In both games, Mills has led by example, with 30 and 22 points, leading the Boomers in points on both occasions.
How can it be that a team of NBA role-players can defeat a team flooded with All-Stars… twice?
I’m aware that both games haven’t been in any major competitions and have been considered ‘warm-ups’. Also, both times, America haven’t been fielding their full roster, in the most recent case, due to the NBA Finals.
Nonetheless, on both occurrences if you put the team list side-by-side, it’s remarkable to think that Australia has got on top.
The reason for this is simple. In fact, it’s the same reason Argentina won in 2004. International players tend to be more used to playing a role and being versatile, whether it’s five minutes a game or 35 minutes a game.
Meanwhile, most of the American line-up have been the first or second option on every team they’ve ever played on, be it in high school, college or the NBA. Transitioning from global super-stardom to role player is not an easy task so, very peculiarly, it’s almost as if the U.S. team is too good for their own liking.
Now that most teams competing in the Olympics will field NBA players in their roster, unlike ever before, the rest of the world can now put up a very good fight.
Players such as Patty Mills, Matisse Thybulle, Joe Ingles, Chris Goulding and Aron Baynes, despite only being role players in the NBA or good players in the NBL, will be crucial to replicate what happened 17 years earlier in an even less likely scenario.