After four heart-breaking fourth-place finishes in previous Olympic Games, the Australian Boomers finally won that elusive medal on Saturday night, when they defeated Luka Doncic and Slovenia in the bronze medal game.
All the Australian players and staff are obviously winners, yet there are plenty who emerge from the result even more enhanced than that, for a host of different reasons. Sadly, one other individual perhaps doesn’t…
These winners aren’t ranked… except for this one. It’s difficult to express how impressive a 42-point, nine-assist performance is in the biggest game in Australian basketball history.
To say Mills delivered on the big stage is as gigantic an understatement as there is. Yet for all that he’s achieved in his athletic career – including now delivering Australia a long-awaited Olympic men’s basketball medal – it speaks volumes that it pales in comparison to Mills’ standing as a person.
A proud Indigenous man, a quality human, and an amazing ambassador for his people and his country, you should take a very big bow, Patty.
The heart and soul of Australian basketball. The greatest NBL player ever (and believe me when I say, it’s not even close). One of the nicest, most genuine people alive. The man is an absolute legend, and his commentary during the Olympics was its usual mix of unbridled enthusiasm, passion and knowledge.
Yet the very best was saved for last, as he unashamedly cried on TV post the match, such was his pride for the Boomers win. It was also immensely satisfying to see him admit that: “Selfishly, I feel a little part of this win”.
Wow, even when he thinks he’s being selfish, Gaze remains modest and understated. In paving the way for this team and inspiring them to even play basketball, he’s a massive part of this win.
Shares in Kleenex
Speaking of, was there a dry eye in the house on Saturday night? As the final siren sounded, the emotion of finally breaking through for a medal took over.
To be honest, I was crying way before that! Patty Mills and the players’ emotions ensured things got dusty once again. Then Channel Seven commentators Mel McLaughlin, Lisa Sthalekar and Andy Maher all struggled to keep their composure, while Andrew Gaze didn’t even try! It was a highly emotional night.
I did something during this tournament I’ve never, ever done before: I doubted Brian Goorjian. Specifically, I questioned the selection of Nathan Sobey over Josh Giddey, his ongoing loyalty to ‘Delly’ in keeping him in the starting five, and his not calling a time-out to stop the bleeding during the USA’s offensive explosion in the semi-final.
Though those particular doubts remain, they are minor blips on Goorj’s overall genius. His teams always play outstanding defence, and he made a number of adjustments that helped deliver Australia’s first medal, thereby cementing his standing as one of the best basketball coaches, against any coaching competition.
The Boomers’ culture
While it can easily be dismissed as BS, those that know, know: the Boomers’ culture is a real thing. Like all cultures, what outsiders believe is irrelevant – the players and everyone involved in the team believe in it, ex-players believe in it, and most importantly, future players believe in it.
The concepts of team-first, no egos, looking after teammates, playing hard, and being a gold medallist performer on and off the court have all been the hallmarks of the Boomers for a long time. Now the final vindication of that culture – long overdue – lays around the current players’ necks.
‘Delly’ has been a wonderful servant for the Boomers, and no basketballer has extracted more out of their talent. However, the sad reality is that he looked washed up during this tournament. Unable to beat anyone off the dribble, and with a broken jump shot, Delly was close to a zero on offence.
He reportedly looked very bad in camp, yet was selected anyway, so he’s lucky – and therefore a winner – for the Boomers claiming a bronze, otherwise I fear he may have unfairly been the target of media and fan ire for looking past it. That may still be a narrative, but at least it’s not the narrative, and he can retire on top.
The skilled big man was on scouts’ radars well before the Olympics, but his stellar play sealed an NBA deal, and he was rewarded with a two-year contract with the San Antonio Spurs the day before Australia’s game against the US. It’s just reward for the versatile forward, who should surprise a few Americans next season.
Basketball in Australia
The bronze medal was a wonderful reward for every former Boomer, and long-suffering Boomers fans. Heartache, pain, misfortune, and fourth-place finishes had all become regular acquaintances with the Boomers fraternity, which made Saturday’s victory even sweeter.
A lot of people will rightly feel a part of that win, and the best thing was the comments by Gaze, stating: “This is now the standard… and now we want gold”. A whole new generation will be inspired by that bronze medal, and that will make previous generations ecstatic.
I’m not sure Australia has fallen in love with any adopted athlete quicker, although fans who remember Tatiana Grigorieva may disagree. Ratings for Philadelphia 76ers games in Australia will undoubtedly receive a boost next season, with numerous Aussies undoubtedly keen to continue watching their new favourite player.
Thybulle bought into the Boomers culture in a heartbeat, and showed a defensive ability on par with the greats on that end of the court. Throw in his hustle and athleticism, and it’s no shock he became a fan favourite.
Finally, we come to the six-foot-11 elephant in the room. While we don’t want to end on a downer, it’s almost irresponsible not to talk about the big name missing from the Boomers’ Olympic campaign…
You can’t help but feel that Simmons missed a massive opportunity by not being with the Boomers in Tokyo. I’m not referring to the medal either, I’m alluding more to him not being around that amazing culture and supportive environment, which could have only been a good thing for him.
Simmons’ reputation took a beating in the NBA playoffs, and I’d argue it’s only got worse, with his perception of caring more about model girlfriends and flashy cars than playing basketball for his country, sure to be a warning flag for astute basketball judges.
It’s hard to call anyone on a US$190 million ($258 million) contract a loser, and he’s certainly not, but Simmons definitely lost out not being with the Boomers.