In the late 1980's and early 1990's someone by the name of Andrew Gaze became a household name, as did Michelle Timms. NBL games were on free to air TV, and the Melbourne Tigers NBL team played in front of record crowds of 15,000+ against the then South East Melbourne Magic at Rod Laver Arena. Most people around the early '90's would have also been able to tell you that a big bloke called Luc Longley played in the NBA alongside Michael Jordan for the Chicago Bulls, and perhaps even be able to tell you he won three straight NBA titles. In fact back then, you could watch most of the NBA finals on free to air TV.
Back in the late 1980's, basketball in Australia and on the world map was on the rise. The Boomers finished 4th in a couple of Olympic Games, albeit the 2000 edition was when it last occurred. The Opals are now perennial medallists at both World Championships and in Olympic competition. Even our junior teams have shone on the international stage, with the Australian U23 men's team (Crocs) winning a World Championship (in Melbourne) and the Emus (U19) and Sapphires (U19) regularly fighting for international medals. Our wheelchair and intellectually disabled teams are just as good.
Believe it or not, Australia is the second ranked nation behind the United States according to the world governing body for basketball FIBA right now! This fact is lot on most people, including those that are associated with the sport in this country. Granted this ranking is heavily reliant on the World Champion Opals who sit 2nd behind the US, the Boomers however are still rated the ninth best men’s team in the world today. That's still a pretty good effort if you ask me.
Australia’s basketball talent is in demand both at home and overseas. Many of the World Champion Opals have gained lucrative contracts with top European and WNBA teams. This includes arguably the greatest female basketballer in the history of the game – Australia’s own Lauren Jackson. Aussie Andrew Bogut was drafted as the number one player in the 2004 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks after a stellar US Collegiate career. In fact Bogut’s success in the NCAA has seen a dramatic increase in the number of talented young Australian’s being courted by US Colleges.
After graduating through the world-renowned AIS program, Australia’s Patty Mills and Andrew Ogilvy have already left their mark on the US College scene after successfully leading their teams as freshman (first year players) and winning numerous accolades. Their success complements that of fellow Aussies such as Aaron Bruce and Aleks Maric who have recently graduated after solid senior season. Both players are outside chances as being drafted into the NBA. Ogilvy is forecast to be an early first-round pick in next years NBA draft, whilst Mills is also tipped to make it in the next few years. To sum it up more simply – Australia has talent!
Not only does Australia have talent, but we can also play. The Opals are one of the gold medal favourites heading into the Beijing Olympics, whilst the Boomers are aiming for the medal rounds. The Boomers have their best chance of reaching the medal rounds since Sydney 2000 with Bogut, Andersen, Anstey and Neilson providing the basis for formidable frontline Australia lacked when Gaze, Heal and co. were at their peak. With success at Beijing, can basketball once again find its way back into the limelight here in Australia? One can only hope so.
Australia’s national competition, the NBL is struggling and under the pump. The Sydney Kings as successful as they were on court for the past 5 or so years, nearly folded. The Brisbane Bullets almost went the same way. West Sydney remain uncompetitive, whilst Adelaide have had their own problems. New teams South Dragons and Gold Coast Blaze are still unproven. Coverage on pay TV through Foxtel for next season remains in limbo as no new deal has been done, and the game has not been covered on free to air TV for years.
Despite the problems of the NBL, the WNBL continues to flourish and gain exposure through the ABC on free to air TV. The WNBL remains one of the best leagues for women in the world. You have to sift through the AFL, NRL, cricket, motor and horse racing coverage in the major daily newspapers to find anything relating to basketball. Even then it often only gains a brief mention.
Despite the troubles of the NBL and the lack of media exposure the game of basketball receives in this country, basketball at grass roots level remains strong, even it may no longer be growing. So what needs to happen to continue to grow the game in Australia? How do we once again make the NBL a strong competition? These are just some of the reasons why Basketball Australia has commissioned a report into how to address these matters amongst others. Whilst we all eagerly await the outcome, we look forward to ongoing on court success for the Boomers and Opals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Success breeds success.