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Raised courts and lowered expectations: A series of ramblings from Boomers USA Game 1
On Thursday evening, the Australian Boomers faced off against the USA basketball team without any discernible nickname. By now, you will be well aware of how the biggest names dropped out en masse, how much of a marketing headache it's been, and the general pitfalls of promoting live sporting events (because lists work best in threes, you know).
At the end of the day, we still got what we wanted - a superstar-laden game that was competitive for the most part, and had some definite highlights for both teams. If you're keen to learn more, I highly recommend taking a look at Jordan's game summary. It has all of the analysis, quotes and quality sports journalism you could ask for.
I was also there, but I offer none of these things.
Because sometimes, you're just at a game. Watching. Drinking. Squinting to make out which blurry man-shaped silhouettes are which, and occasionally recognising that there's some sort of sporting event happening down there.
This was my view of the action at Etihad shameless corporate branding Marvel Stadium.
You may note that I am wearing my Toronto Raptors championship shirt, because much like the Blue Jays' back-to-back World Series wins in the early 90s, I will ride this title to my grave. You may also note that I am carrying my Nintendo Switch in my coat pocket, because I am a petulant manchild with no shame.
Lastly, you may note that you can see bugger-all from level 3, row W, a seat that is so far up the back, it's potentially considered to be located in one of the outer suburbs of Melbourne. Regardless, I tried to remain diligent and assemble some constructive thoughts and criticisms for your edification.
Alas, none of those actually ended up happening, and what we have instead is the incoherent ranting of a madman who was mostly just disappointed that Kyle Lowry wasn't in attendance, and therefore wasn't able to appreciate my aforementioned Raptors T-shirt. You might claim that he wouldn't be able to see it from all the way down there, but anyone who has observed Lowry's court vision will attest to his impeccable eyesight.
The earliest thing that struck me, is that Melburnians love an event. It was a veritable rainbow of jerseys as keen basketball pundits braved the winter chill to show off their passion for the sport.
Docklands was flooded with all manner of LeBrons, Currys, and those infuriating posers who wear the hat for one team and shirt for another, an injustice that was only barely outdone by the guy who had the audacity to brandish a Lakers Lonzo Ball jersey. Honestly dude, that wasn't ok even when he was still with the team.
For their part, the team at Marvel Stadium made sure to assign the appropriate pomp and circumstance necessary for such an event. Lights whizzed around the arena, transitioning between red, white and blue and the green and gold, and a collection of devices spewed out flames that evoked memories of the opulence of Southbank.
The girl next to me seemed rather taken by the fiery display, declaring that she would have preferred to have been seated in a deck chair beside them, and that it was a shame that this basketball game would distract her from enjoying their warmth.
In the centre was the court, defiantly raised several feet off the floor. Purportedly, this was to help accomodate the view for the fans sitting in the cheap seats (read: me), but it was to the vexation of those positioned closer to the action, as it obscured their view and lead to most having to stand throughout the duration of the event.
I couldn't help but feel concerned for the safety of the players, as any loose ball they hustled to keep in bounds could lead to them tumbling from the stage in a gruesome heap. Andrew Bogut is not a small man, and the only person more upset than him in such a situation would be the hapless bodies positioned below him.
Regardless, it felt special and grandiose. Every bit of importance that should have been assigned to this event certainly was, including but not limited to at least twenty consecutive requests that we were to 'make some noise'. I made a quacking noise in response, because I'm immature like that. It was also a good way to ensure the people on either side moved far, far away into the empty seats at the end of the aisle.
As for the game itself, it soon became clear just how dominant America is at the game of basketball - not exactly a groundbreaking revelation, but an apt one all the same. Though the local boys were undoubtedly very good, there is just something else about watching the USA players dazzle with their brilliance. Their movements were crisp, their shots accurate and deliberate.
It should go as no surprise that Kemba Walker was a standout, netting 23 points, with 21 of those coming in the second half. He's an absolute beast at the point guard position, and I look forward to him bringing many more years of joy to the beleaguered Hornets faithful.
... no, I didn't think that was funny, either. Oh well.
Perhaps the best impression to be taken from the night, however, is that Patty Mills is a national treasure. The pregame presentation honouring his Indigenous roots was inspiring, and his play on the court was on another level. He looked to have an extra gear, making blindingly fast cuts towards the basket and giving the pro-Aussie crowd something to cheer about.
Indeed, even when the games ops announced he was being subbed back in, it was met with a mighty roar. I vaguely suspect they shuffled him in and out of the rotation just to rouse the fans from their intermittent bouts of silence.
Effectively, the signs to be taken away from this 86-102 loss are encouraging and ultimately unsurprising. This is a solid team that Australia is putting out there, held back at times by a lack of cohesion and prone to crippling cold streaks that will cost them dearly down the track.
But as always, this World Cup will be the USA's to lose. Regardless of how many elite players have dropped out, their coffers are always overflowing with talent, and they are capable of controlling games like maestros. The only thing they're missing at this point is the recognition.
And Kyle Lowry. He would have been my favourite blurry silhouette of all.