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On a hiding to nothing, or destiny's door

THEY swagger out onto the court in their garish red, white and blue uniforms, spinning balls and turning heads with their silky skills and cocky confidence.

At the other end of the floor, their opponents in green-and-gold warm up with great introspection, hoping tonight may be the night – the night the longest drought in sports ends.

No, it’s not Team USA versus Australia’s Boomers. It’s the Harlem Globetrotters and their perennial foils, the Washington Generals.

The last time anyone looked, those family-friendly Globetrotters had chalked up an 8,829-game winning streak over their hapless opponents, legendary stuff. But then we all know it’s a performance, not a basketball game, unlike when a team takes the hardwood against the Americans.

No nation in the world owns a positive win-loss record over the USA in recognised international basketball, whether the Americans were suiting up AAU, college or NBA players.

But Australia’s 0-25 record? While not quite at a Washington Generals’ level of futility, it still is pretty grim. On Australian soil, the Boomers are 0-8, having been swept in a classic seven-match series played around the nation in 1978 ahead of the FIBA World Championship in Manila. (Australia lost that World Championship’s opening match … to USA.)

The Boomers’ eighth home reversal came in 2000 in Melbourne, in a “friendly” ahead of the Sydney Olympic Games at Melbourne Park. The contest went from friendly to heated in next-to-no-time, with a near-fight and no shortage of drama and nasty exchanges before the US Olympic team comfortably beat the plucky Aussies 89-64.

The tone was set seconds into the game when Boomers’ captain Andrew Gaze took down US star Vince Carter after he closed in hard on Gaze’s 3-point attempt. A fiery exchange followed - no punches were thrown - and the Australians refused to back down for the rest of the night. Carter ended up standing over Gaze and staring down at him, with other Boomers immediately coming over to remonstrate. About a minute later, Carter collided with referee Bill Mildenhall, dislocating the official's elbow.

Asked if there was animosity, post-game Gaze said: “I certainly hope not. The way Australians are, we have a good hard crack on the court. Culturally what we're all about, we go out there and give it 110 per cent. We kick back and chew the fat afterwards and talk about how great or how stupid we were out on the court.

“We respect and admire the (American) players and so, hopefully, we can be mates as well.”

Mateship hasn’t really been on the cards, the US winning the next five clashes between the two adversaries, perhaps most frustratingly at their last meeting at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

The annual Melbourne Cup rightly is revered as the race that stops a nation but in Rio, it was the Boomers who brought the country to a halt with their televised match-up against Team USA. The match coverage on Channel 7 peaked with 1.4m TV viewers, and 739k live streams, beating the Melbourne Cup Race record!

The reason it rated through the open roof is simple. For the first time, Australians believed their team – laden with NBA championship-winners such as Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes, plus major NBA role players such as Joe Ingles – had a chance to do the “impossible” and upset the US.

Four-time Australian Olympic veteran Phil Smyth said: “Everyone in the world now knows we can play basketball to this level.” Smyth was captain of the first Australia team to reach an Olympic medal playoff – Seoul’s 1988 battle for Bronze, lost to the last USA team suiting only college elite.

Indirectly, the Boomers gave birth to the greatest basketball team of all-time, the USA’s 1992 Barcelona Olympics “Dream Team” which comprised 11 Hall of Fame-bound NBA superstars, and one stand-out collegiate star. With the USSR and Yugoslavia slugging out the Gold Medal game in Seoul, a Final the USA believes is its birthright, playing Australia for Bronze was the final ignominy.

Realising the world had caught up with its college and AAU elite, the USA turned to its NBA best, and so the Dream Team, led by Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Earvin Johnson, Larry Bird and Co, was born and order restored.

Fast-forward 24 years to Rio and an NBA infiltrated by the best players from around the world, from Argentina to Brazil, to Germany, Serbia, Croatia and yes, even Australia. No longer were the Americans on such a pedestal they could not be toppled, the mystique lessened appreciably by having them as teammates or opponents through an 82-game NBA regular season. So when the Olympic Games rolled around and with it the promise of a USA-Australia showdown in which the kids from Down Under had an actual shot, a nation tuned in.

They would not be disappointed either, even though the USA ultimately held sway 98-88 in a game with everything. Everything except the upset win for which the Aussies worked so hard, let down by a couple of wayward shots, allowing the defending champs to nudge away sufficiently to salvage victory, the margin slightly exaggerated by the Boomers needing to foul late to stop the clock.

Carmelo Anthony, with 9-of-15 threes in his 31-point game-high, was the thorn, Kyrie Irving also finishing strongly to effect the great escape. “We expected that,” the Melbourne-born US point guard said of Australia’s tenacious effort, the Boomers tied 29-29 at quarter-time, and ahead 54-49 at halftime before being contained to 34 second-half points.

USA coach Mike Krzyzewski pre-Olympics labelled his team as the best defensive side America suited during his three-Olympics reign and they showed that after the main interval. But even this great defensive team had no answers to the Aussies’ 54-point first half as Mills, Bogut and Dellavedova put on a show. Delly had nine assists by the break as the Boomers refused to be intimidated, Aussie coach Andrej Lemanis using his full contingent and everyone offering something.

Anthony opened with a pair of 3-pointers for a 6-0 US lead, but Ingles nailed a triple of his own, then a fast-break dunk and it was “game on”.

Paul George was agitated by Delly’s aggressive D – and it was nothing more than that – and gave up a technical foul as the Boomers showed, just as in 2000, they would not take a backward step. Australia led by as many as seven (43-36) before consecutive turnovers allowed the USA back in. By halftime, Damian Martin had stripped a startled Kevin Durant of the ball, Paul George had a flop warning, Baynes and Ingles were on three fouls, and some of the best basketball of the tournament had been played.

Tied 70-70 in the last quarter, a nation still spellbound in front of TV sets, Anthony stuck four 3-pointers and the USA finally had a buffer to protect. Inside the last two minutes, Mills again cut the deficit to 86-90 before Irving delivered the match’s biggest shot, a 3-pointer over the outstretched Ingles for 93-86.

Gaze, part of the television commentary team, described the match as: “one of the all-time great performances by an Australian team,” and it assuredly was. But while a nation was proud, its players were not, summed up succinctly by Bogut post-game.

“We’re disappointed. We had every opportunity. We still lost the game. Let’s not sugarcoat it – we lost the game,” he said.

Actually, Australia has lost 25 games to the USA now but unlike the Harlem Globetrotters, they stand a chance at Marvel Stadium.


1964 Olympics, Tokyo, Japan

USA 78, Boomers 45

1970 FIBA World C’ship, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia

USA 99, Boomers 62

1972 Olympics, Munich, West Germany

USA 81, Boomers 55

1978 “International 7-Test Basketball Challenge”, Sept.20-27

USA 99, Boomers 81 in Newcastle

USA 98, Boomers 84 in Wollongong

USA 91, Boomers 73 in Canberra

USA 74, Boomers 70 in Melbourne

USA 81, Boomers 80 in Melbourne

USA 91, Boomers 72 in Adelaide

USA 87, Boomers 69 in Adelaide

1978 FIBA World C’ship, Manila, Philippines

USA 77, Boomers 75

1982 FIBA World C’ship, Bogota, Colombia

USA 110, Boomers 86

1988 Olympics, Seoul, South Korea

USA 78, Boomers 49

1990 FIBA World C’ship, Buenos Aires, Argentina

USA 79, Boomers 78

1994 FIBA World C’ship, Toronto, Canada

USA 130, Boomers 74

1996 Pre-Olympic “Friendly”, Salt Lake City, USA

USA 118, Boomers 77

1996 Olympics, Atlanta, USA

USA 101, Boomers 73

1998 Goodwill Games, New York, USA

USA 93, Boomers 85

1998 FIBA World C’ship, Athens, Greece

USA 96, Boomers 78

2000 Pre-Olympic “Friendly”, Melbourne, Australia

USA 89, Boomers 64

2004 Olympics, Athens, Greece

USA 89, Boomers 79

2006 FIBA World C’ship, Hamamatsu, Japan

USA 113, Boomers 73

2008 Olympics, Beijing, China                                                  

USA 116, Boomers 85

2012 Olympics, London, England

USA 119, Boomers 86

2016 Olympics, Rio, Brazil

USA 98, Boomers 88

(0-8 in Olympic competition; 0-7 in FIBA World Championships/World Cups; 0-10 in “exhibitions” or “friendlies”; 0-25 overall)

Aug 22

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