There are very few things uglier than blind patriotism. To borrow a line from Irish playwright G.B.Shaw – who had been known to fling a ball or two at his local peach basket – it is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.
So in theory Australia Day has the potential to be a day that embodies all the worst qualities of our peoples. Yet, for the most part, it does nothing of the sort. Rather than an exhibition of Australian pride, the day has almost become a showcase for the all little subtleties that make up Australian culture; successes and foibles alike.
This is epitomised in the tradition of the Australia Day BBQ. The language of a good barbecue is universal, irrespective of what you do for a living or what city you’re in. Well, except Sydney, which is full of obnoxious uppity man-purse-wearing fuckers. I’m joking of course, I’m sure there are some of you who don’t wear purses. But in most places round the country, the same scene plays out over and over.
Firstly, that Shaq-sized hole in the ozone we’ve worked so hard to develop ensures a nice dry heat throughout the day; it’s not a barbecue until your skin is sizzling almost as much as the snags. It’s not a barbecue until there are a cluster of men gathered around the snags, dropping science on the perfect way to extract flavour from a bunch of Woolworths sausages. It’s not a barbecue until you’ve committed at least one act of intense laziness – whether it be stealing another man’s beer because yours was on the other side of the esky or staying in the pool three hours too long because you couldn’t be fucked getting out.
And just like there are certain common threads, there are also some unwritten laws that aren’t to be broken. To quote a somewhat more contemporary dude, certain shit you just don’t do. You don’t bring along fancy bottle of Shiraz: it might be a great drop, but on this day tinnies of VB taste much sweeter. You don’t dress up. And you most definitely do not invite a vegetarian. Now look, I like a nice glass of red as much as the next man, I’m not averse to a crisp shirt and a couple of my very closest friends are vegetarian. But a barbecue with a shiraz-swiller, a dude in a tie and a vegetarian just wouldn’t function – Australia Day is the classic case of the sum being greater than the parts, as long as the parts are willing to play their role.
So it was surely no accident that it was on this past Australia Day, laying drunk on a deck littered with empty bottles of cheap beer, that it finally dawned on me that the Boomers will forever be doomed to mediocrity until they too develop their own sense of transcendent identity.
[An aside: One of the first rules of writing is to introduce your subject early on. It’s a cardinal sin to be writing about one thing (say, basketball) and spend the first five paragraphs blathering on about something else (say, barbecues). Here’s why; everyone interested in basketball tends to stop reading well before paragraph 5, and given this is a basketball blog, that leaves only some poor American bastard who was eager to learn how to put on a gen-u-wine Ausssee BBQ. Oh well, live and learn.]
To hammer the point home, I’d invite you to join me in a game of word association, working through some of the national teams that have had success in international ball. Below are my responses; feel free to come up with your own.
Maybe someone can come up with a better association, but I just can’t see it. This team just hasn’t had any sense of identity ever since Gaze retired. In the Gaze days, you could probably have answered “shooting”. But really, the Boomers were never going to be able ride shooting to a medal. Not when the Yugoslavs and the Lithuanians have had that particular identity on lockdown since anyone can remember. And the current incarnation of the Boomers is certainly no threat to eclipse the best shooting squads.
There are two aspects that make this really frustrating. For one, the team finally has enough top-end talent to theoretically challenge for a medal. But even more frustrating is the fact that Australian teams in other sports have never had a problem forging their own identity. Often, this simply entails being the team that wins with physicality and grit, as was the case for the Socceroos in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. But no-one can convince me that the Boomers can ever match the toughness and physicality of the Argentines, the Greeks or even the Coach-K-coached USA squad. So what the hell are they?
It doesn’t help that the best players on the team are so stylistically disparate. Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, David Andersen…there might not be a shared trait between the three – a system catered to Bogut would make it tough for the other two to thrive, and vice-versa. This disparity is no accident. In a country whose basketball league has become a laughing stock, where the sport in general carries the stigma of being too ‘soft’ or too ‘American’, it’s no surprise that players have to forge their own sense of style with little in the way of examples.
I doubt we’ll know what a prototypical Aussie baller is any time soon, and the stylistic difference between our best players will likely remain vast. But that shouldn’t prevent the team as a whole from developing its own national identity. It’s difficult to know what to prescribe for the Boomers. Perhaps the solution will come in the form of a great ‘glue guy’. Someone who’ll be able to bridge the gap between a Bogut and a Mills; someone who’ll be able to lead the team in one direction. Or maybe that direction will come in time from Brett Brown, who has done his apprenticeship under the best coach in the NBA; certainly the best at instilling a common ethos amongst his players.
In any case, until the Boomers undergo a seismic change that imbues them with their very own understanding of what it means to represent Australian basketball, this team is bound to fail. The USA, with a team far more talented than we could ever hope to field, discovered this so emphatically in the first part of the decade.
A team that stands for nothing will not stand up when it counts.
Nevertheless, I’m not entirely pessimistic about the future of the team. At least the Boomers are still working with a clean slate, still able to write their own history. At least they aren’t already forever tainted as a soft team that perennially underperforms. In other words, at least we aren’t the French!