Basketball is primarily associated with certain countries. Obviously, the United States where the game was created and home to the NBA. But also, Canada, where the creator of the game was born; Europe and China. But one part of the world often gets overlooked, and that part of the world has played a big part in the development of basketball. I am talking about the land down under: Australia.
It did not take long after its creation for the game of basketball to make its way from Springfield, Massachusetts, to nearly half way around the world in Australia. The first recorded game of basketball was played at a gym in Adelaide in 1897.
Unlike the United States and the rest of the world, basketball did not take off in the Australia until well into the 20th century. Australia did not make the summer Olympics until 1956, and only made it that year because the games where held in Melbourne. The Aussies finished 12th, which is their worst finish to date.
Australia started to become a fixture in the Summer games following the 1972 games, and has appeared in every games since. Their 13 consecutive Olympic appearances is both the longest current active streak and longest streak in Olympic history. it should be noted however, that the United States did qualify for the 1980 Moscow games but did not participate. Australia’s 15 Olympic appearances are tied for 2nd most with Brazil and behind only the United States 19 appearances.
Australia has finished 4th four times, doing so in 1988, 1996, 2000, and 2016. Because of their 4th place finishes, they have yet to medal in the Olympics. The 2021 games in Tokyo are probably Australia’s best chance to finally medal in the Olympics.
Much like the United States, Australia has put a lot less effort into the basketball world championships or as it is now called the FIBA world cup. Australia made its first appearance in the World Cup in 1970, where they finished 12th. The Aussies have had mixed results in the World Cup, in 1982 they finished 5th, but followed that up four years later in 1986 with 17th place finish. In 2019 they finished an Aussie best 4th.
One place where Australia has dominated is in the FIBA Oceanic cup. From 1971-97 they won every tournament. They did not participate in 1999 due to the Olympics being held in Sydney and receiving an automatic bid in the Olympic games. But in 2003 they won it again. Their one slip up was in 2009 when they lost to New Zealand.
Success in basketball is becoming more and more common for Australia and they are competing with the best teams in the world. In 2019, they defeated the United States for the first time when the US sent NBA players.
Australia has been sending players to the NBA and some have been rather successful. In the 1990s the greatest Australian basketball player was Andrew Gaze. Gaze played 22 seasons in the NBL as is by far the best player that league has ever saw. But when Gaze attempted to make the transition to the NBA he struggled. Gaze a 7-time NBL MVP played a total of 26 games with the Washington Bullets and San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. Gaze did become one of the few NBL champions to also win an NBA championship and one of only two NBL MVPS (The other being Andrew Bogut) to win an NBA title.
Starting in the early 2000s many Australian talents began finding their way into the NBA. Until 2000 only 5 Australian players, Luc Longley, Gaze, Shane Heal, Mark Bradtke, and Chris Anstey, played in the NBA. Of the five, only Longley had a relevant NBA career. Since 2000, 16 players from Australia have suited up for an NBA team.
2004 is when the shift for Australia really started to happen, that year Andrew Bogut, who played collegiately at the University of Utah, was selected #1 overall in the NBA draft. Bogut went on to become thus far, the only all-NBA player to never make an all-star team, as well as win a title with the Warriors. Bogut is arguably the greatest non-all-star in NBA history.
In 2012 another Australian born player was drafted #1 overall in Kyrie Irving. Irving, however, is a US citizen and represents the United States internationally. Irving would be the first Australian born player to be selected to an all-star game.
In 2018 a third Australian would be drafted #1 when Ben Simmons was selected. Simmons also became an all-star, and he and Irving are considered top 20 players in the NBA right now.
Australia will be a team to be reckoned with in the future. They have a deep roster going into the 2021 Olympics that includes NBA notables: Aron Bynes, Andrew Bogut, Thon Maker, Joe Ingles, Patty Mills, Ben Simmons, Matthew Dellavedova and Dante Exum. It is likely that they challenge the elites teams like Argentina, France and the United States for a medal.