European stars set to join Team USA down under in 2019
Earlier this week, the Australian sporting scene was abuzz with the news that the USA men's basketball team is set to tour Australia in August 2019. A two-game slate is scheduled, to be played at Melbourne's Eithad Stadium ahead of the FIBA World Cup in China a week later.
Etihad Stadium's official capacity is listed as 53,359, but with added seating to be in place on the oval, it will be fit to hold 60,000 plus in what is sure to be an incredible spectacle, with TEG Live reporting that all VIP packages have sold out for both games, and a further 55,000 plus people registering for general admission tickets.
But as exciting as this news is, could it be just the tip of the iceberg?
Basketball Australia CEO, Anthony Moore joined the Sportsday radio show with Dwayne Russell and Gerard Healy to reveal they aren't satisfied with bringing just the NBA-talent laden USA and home-grown Boomers teams to our shores. Moore revealed that on top of the two already scheduled games against the US, the Boomers will take part in three more warm-up games before the World Cup. Countries on the wish list include Serbia, Lithuania, France, Spain and Argentina, the nations that join the USA in the top six on FIBA's world rankings.
To give an idea of how strong these squads are, here's a list of just some of the current NBA talent hailing from those nations:
Serbia - Nikola Jokic & Milos Teodosic
Lithuania - Jonas Valanciunas & Domantis Sabonis
France - Rudy Gobert & Nic Batum
Spain - Marc and Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio & Serge Ibaka
Argentina - Manu Ginobili (retired from national team)
Outside of the Olympics, the FIBA World Cup is the pinnacle of international basketball. Steph Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving suited up for Team USA in 2014, while historically other nations send their very best squads to the event. Given the prestige around the World Cup, securing warm-up games in Australia would ensure further excitement in what is building up to be an international basketball bonanza on a scale you may have been reasonable in assuming was unreachable.
When explaining why Basketball Australia are approaching those nations, Moore pointed to the Boomers recent results.
"Our results say we are comfortable playing the Asian style, but against European, that physical style we really want to have a crack at."
With the Boomers notching wins against France, Serbia and Lithuania at the 2016 Rio Olympics, it would be an excellent opportunity for the Australian squad to gel ahead of the major international tournament. Potentially headlined by NBA talent, including sensational rookie Ben Simmons, Matthew Dellavedova, Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Aron Baynes, Dante Exum and Thon Maker, the Boomers appear set to unleash what could be their strongest ever lineup on the world's basketball scene.
On the announcement of the team USA tour, Moore excitedly exclaimed, “I think we’ve stepped a couple of steps up and gone straight to the bonanza of basketball. This is the holy grail.’’
With the FIBA World Cup to be played in one of the largest basketball markets on the planet, one would reasonably expect that global sportswear giants such as Nike, Under Armour and adidas would want their highest profile athletes competing -- and endorsing their brands -- on Chinese soil. Even more so given that at Tokyo 2020, the Olympic governing bodies tightly control national team endorsement deals. So the chances of superstars such as LeBron James, Steph Curry and co. actually playing for Team USA in the World Cup -- and in turn in Melbourne -- are greatly enhanced.
Looking ahead, if the 2019 exhibition games in Australia prove successful, there is a real opportunity to repeat the dose a year later ahead of the 2020 Olympics, and again in 2023 due to the next World Cup being jointly hosted the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia. Australia's proximity to these countries in the Asian region, being an English-speaking nation, and a rising basketball power on the world stage, are likely to prove very attractive. Get it right in 2019, and this could be bigger than anyone ever expected and become a semi-regular event down under. It could seriously happen.
Given Melbourne has already secured two of the five warm up contests being planned for 2019, Moore was non-committal on possible venues but did reveal, "There's an opportunity for us with European teams to land in Perth."
Whilst he was certainly accurate in his assessment, he's now revealed the grand plan for what would be the sweetest of icing to go on that already mouth-watering cake.