Brian Goorjian has always been the darling of the Australian basketball coaching ranks.
Australia, when accounting for its population, is a great sporting nation.
In addition to regular top ten Olympic Games (OG) performances, most often led by our swimmers, Australia has long been one of the leading nations in terms of some of the biggest international team sports including cricket, rugby union, basketball and hockey.
But if Australia had beaten the United States (US) in the 2021 OG semi-final of the basketball competition, I argue this would have been our greatest-ever team sport performance.
This includes famous victories in the Ashes and World Cup for cricket, and World Cup victories in rugby union and rugby league.
Let’s face it. As great as sports like cricket and the rugby codes are, very few major sporting nations play them on a major scale whereas basketball is only surpassed by football as the biggest team sport in the world.
Professional or semi-professional leagues in basketball exist in North America, China, Europe and Australia.
While Australia in recent years did beat the US in a couple of friendly matches, beating the US in the OG would have been almost akin to Australia beating Brazil in football’s World Cup.
After all, basketball is one of the biggest American professional sports and the US has dominated OG basketball since 1992 once its professionals got involved, only losing gold in 2004.
While the US has also lost a few basketball World Cups, NBA stars are indeed much more eager to compete and impress a US audience in the OG, which is basketball’s biggest show.
The OG tournament may have just 12 teams competing, but getting to an OG requires extensive qualification matches.
While the US was missing a few superstars like LeBron James, and it can be argued that its team nearly always has less experience playing together when compared to other systematic national teams, their OG side was again full of NBA superstars including Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum, Draymond Green and Devin Booker.
With Australia leading by 15 points in the first half before the US closed the Australian lead to just three points at halftime, we Aussies could not help but be excited.
Unfortunately, the US got on top of Australia in the second half, comfortably winning the match 97-78.
Hopefully Australia’s performance at the 2021 OG will inspire the next generation to follow the example of top Australian players like Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Mathew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes who always were eager to play for Australia over the years.
Who knows. One day Australia may indeed beat a US side in a World Cup or OG.
Win or lose in the playoff for bronze, I will always remember the semi-final OG basketball match with the US as one of the best sporting moments I ever saw as a spectator.
For half an hour or so, when Australia was up by 15 points, the dream looked like it just may be realised.
If we had won, I believe it would have been Australia’s greatest sporting team performance yet.
What do you think?