Basketball mourns the loss of Michael Tucker

Basketball mourns the loss of Michael Tucker

The basketball community is in mourning this week, following the sad news of the passing of former basketball great Michael Tucker.

Tucker was a member of two Australian Olympic campaigns as a player, and also served as the head coach of the Australian men’s wheelchair national team, the Rollers, leading them to their best ever finish at the time at the 1990 World Cup, where they beat Germany for fifth place.

Tucker was born in Melbourne on August 23, 1954. He first started playing basketball at the age of 12, getting his start with the Dandenong Basketball Club. In 1974, Tucker was selected to play in the Dandenong Men’s team at the Australian Club Championship, and after an impressive display at that tournament, he was invited to join the Australian Men’s squad.

Following only three years of senior basketball, and at the tender age of 20, Tucker was selected for the Australian team for his first international tour. This led to his selection in the national team that won the 1975 Oceania Qualification Tournament, which in turn saw him selected into the Australian Olympic men’s basketball team, which competed at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games.

The team finished eighth at those games. In the build up, Tucker sustained a serious back injury in practise, dislocating two discs in his spine, and it was recommended that he be sent home to recover. But Tucker would have none of that, and despite being in a great deal of pain, was an important part of the Australian team’s Olympic campaign, having game-highs of 12 points in two games, against Japan and Mexico. 

“Tucker was one of those guys that you just couldn’t keep down,” said Basketball Australia CEO and a former teammate, Larry Sengstock. “He had so much character as a person and so much heart as a player; he was always an integral component of the national programs.

“He would always bring these big tubs of Sustagen on tour, and after spending all of his allocated money within the first few days, all he’d have after that was Sustagen. One might say he pioneered these meal-replacement products you see today,” he laughed. "He will be missed."

Following the Montreal games, Tucker led the Chelsea club to a Victorian championship. He was again selected to the Olympic team for the Moscow Games, and was again a key player in the team’s success, the team finishing eighth.

The following year, Tucker underwent knee surgery. Major blood-clotting all but ended his playing days – although he did manage to play one final season with Nunawading – but his career in the sport was far from over, with Tucker taking on the job of head coach of the Australian wheelchair basketball team, The Rollers.

Tucker coached the team through to a fifth placing at the 1990 World Cup in Belgium, to an eighth place finish at the Barcelona Paralympics in 1992 and a sixth place finish at the Canadian World Championship in 1994. He coached the side up until 1995.    

Tucker was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome when he was in his teens, which should have cut well-short his basketball ambitions. Of course as we know, it did anything but. Australian Basketball Hall  of Famer Dr Adrian Hurley writes:

He was advised not to play sport but he refused. Over the years his health deteriorated and he was confined to a wheelchair for the latter part of his life. He battled against ill health for a number of years but always stoically kept to living as best he could.

In an interview in 2011 Michael said “You know I just loved basketball and wanted to play. I really miss it.”

Basketball will miss Michael Tucker.