Put on your slouch hats, slap on some sunscreen and let’s have a look around. Please don’t forget to watch out for the kangaroos, writes Basketball Australia historian Nicholas Way.
Sydney, still bathed in a post-Olympic glow, now plays hosts to the Paralympics. Village Mayor Tim Fischer (former Deputy PM, the one who wore the Akubra all the time) is overjoyed with the record ticket sales and the sheer excitement surrounding the events. Athletes such as Priya Cooper, Siobhan Paton, Lisa Llorens, Louise Sauvage and her close Canadian friend Chantal Petitclerc were now front page news, instead of being slotted next to the horse racing form guide. Speaking of horse racing, veteran trainer George Hanlon finally won the Caulfield Cup as Diatribe saluted with Jim Cassidy aboard.
In weightier matters, the major Australian news story was a scandal involving the suspect use of a Commonwealth-funded phone card by the son of Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith. Despite the Press Gallery’s predictions of his imminent political demise, Reith would survive. The U.S. Presidential contest is in its final frenetic fortnight. As Texas Governor George W. Bush pulls to within spitting distance of Vice-President Al Gore, outgoing President Bill Clinton is reported to be incensed that his Democratic colleague refuses to allow Clinton to campaign on his behalf.
In sports, baseball’s World Series pits two teams from New York against each other for the first time since 1956. The Yankees defeat the Mets in game 1 of the Series 4-3 after 4 hours and 53 minutes in 12 innings. ‘Stomp’ by Steps, ‘Come On Over Baby’ by Christina Aguilera and ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) by Spiller were the hits with a bullet at the top of the charts. But Australian basketball fans were grooving to different beats, for they were coming to the end of the best six weeks of international competition that they had ever seen.
As hosts of the Paralympics, the Rollers, Gliders and Boomerangs (our men’s ID team) were all automatic qualifiers. The Rollers were the defending gold medallists while the Gliders had finished fourth in Atlanta. For the Boomerangs this would be their first and unfortunately their last Paralympics appearance to date.
Under the leadership of team captain Sandy Blythe and scoring dynamo Troy Sachs, the Rollers finished with a 2-1 record in their qualifying pool. The Gliders swept through their pool with wins over the Netherlands, the United States of America and Great Britain. The Boomerangs made their own piece of history when they drew a then world record of 5591 fans (most of them schoolchildren) to their game against Russia. Regrettably, the Boomerangs were defeated by the score of 79-64. Eventually, the Rollers would not reach the medal round; the Boomerangs would finish sixth (in a tournament clouded by the controversy surrounding the victorious Spanish team) and the Gliders would win a silver medal, their most successful Paralympics campaign to that time.
Due to the disruption caused by having an Olympic break at the start of a season, the NBL’s third summer season opened with Wollongong hosting West Sydney and the Victoria Titans visiting Brisbane. It would be the first round played under the new 24 second shot clock. Derek Rucker, returning after off-season surgery, shoots 7-of-10 from the perimeter and totals 30 points as the Razors spring a 115-97 upset on the Hawks at ‘The Sandpit’. The Razors were never headed as Cheikh Ya Ya Dia and Simon Dwight each score 20 points. For the Hawks, Melvin Thomas garnered 25 points and 16 rebounds. The Titans, despite a serious injury to centre Chris Anstey, are able to easily overcome the Bullets 95-80. 3000 spectators see Tony Ronaldson top-score for Victoria with 17 points.
Saturday night is a three course menu; Victoria host West Sydney, Townsville host Cairns and Perth and Adelaide renew their ancient rivalry. The Titans christen the then new Vodafone Arena (now Hisense Arena) with a 110-93 demolition of the Razors. Jason Smith top scores for Victoria with 25, but the real star of the game is back-up centre Brett Wheeler. In 31 minutes of playing time he scores 21 points and 11 rebounds. With a 67-53 disparity in rebounds, it appears the Titans will be able to survive without Anstey for an extended period.
Townsville made Guy Molloy’s first game as a NBL head coach one to forget with a smashing 120-85 triumph at the Swamp. Sam MacKinnon produced a Player of the Week style performance with 35 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Crocs. More astonishing was his 5 from 7 from outside the arc. Molloy was gallant in defeat, saying that he ‘had made a lot of rookie mistakes.’ He would be back. The last game of the night would be the game of the round as the previous two NBL champion clubs. A nip and tuck game saw the Cats and 36ers at level pegging. It would take three crucial shots from Adelaide import Kevin Brooks in the fourth quarter to finally silence the red-daubed hordes. Brett Maher top-scored with 21 points but it was his defensive job on Ricky Grace that truly made the difference.
The final two games of the round saw the Canberra Cannons, the experts’ prediction for the wooden spoon, live up to their billing. On the Sunday they were thrashed by the Melbourne Tigers 122-103. The ‘Trinity’ of Gaze, Copeland and Bradtke starred as usual for the Tigers. It had been a difficult week for the Tigers brand, as their WNBL line-up was forced to pull out of the competition that very week. The Cannons backed up on the Monday with a home game against the Sydney Kings. The Kings, who had seven players missing from their full strength line-up, were still able to claim a 104-98 victory. Shane Heal carried the Kings home with a game-high 35 points.
Well, the time it’s taken surprises me. Next week, will the ghost of George Herman Ruth finally be laid to rest? That’s October 28-31, 2004, next week in ‘Back in the Day’.
Question of the Week brought to you by Nobody:
What was your most memorable basketball-related road trip?
Please be aware, if it’s not clean, it won’t get printed. But send in what you have, we like a laugh at the office!
Send your responses to Nicholas.Way@Basketball.net.au with ‘Back in the Day’ in the subject line. You may get published in the monthly Mailbag, so get writing and see you next week!
[This is the fourth in a regular series of articles that will take note of the historic moments of the modern era of Australian basketball (1979-today). If you have memories to share, or topics that should be discussed, send an email to Nicholas.Way@basketball.net.au and put in the subject line ‘Back in the Day’.]