Original published in Alphabet Pony #21: The Homegrown Issue – August 13, 2012
Nobody mentioned there’d be women dunking at the Olympics. When I think of the Olympics Games, I think of swimming and running and jumping and tossing and all the feats of endurance that we, for some reason, keep dedicating carnivals to. The Olympics is the biggest of these carnivals: a friendly war with its splashes of national pride, its unity, its human endeavour, a parade of glory, and hearts crushed by mere milliseconds. But mainly, the Olympics is that thing that clogs up the front page of every newspaper for weeks, messes with regular television scheduling (for those who rely on TV for a steady stream of normality and nonsense, this is like being spun ten times and pushed into traffic) and enters every slice of suffocating small talk: impassioned commentary on sports nobody cared about two weeks ago. Like Christmas, it’s nice, but inconvenient.
However, two amazing developments have emerged so far at the 2012 Olympics. The first was the entire world tuning in to watch a Mr. Bean sketch (who, with his entire act devoid of speech, is actually the most universal British character since… well, James Bond…who was in a sketch with The Queen. The entire opening ceremony was akin to watching a BBC Home Videos trailer while on acid, wasn’t it?). The second was when this past Friday, Elizabeth Cambage, a twenty-year-old Australian basketball player, dunked – the first woman in history to do so at the Olympics Games. Now, obviously such a sweeping statement cannot be completely verified; FIBA (the UN/filing cabinet for basketball, basically) couldn’t say with any certainty that this was a first. Keep in mind we are talking purely about the Olympics here. In small pockets of Arizona or Connecticut, there are probably high school girls dunking basketballs like (nothing can be inserted here without this sounding like a euphemism). But in terms of high profile, televised, Olympic-level basketball, this was a first. And a genuinely exciting first. It offers up so many possibilities. As a nation, we love watching Australians be great at something on an international level. This is why we will watch swimming – a sport that isn’t interesting, is super-repetitive, hard to follow, impossible to commentate with any level of entertainment, and mostly occurs underwater, below the actual line of sight. But we are really good at it, so we will support it, and love it, and elevate it to silly levels and time slots. As Tom Gleisner once stated on The Panel, we don’t even joke about Thorpie’s jewellery line.
An Australian basketball player achieved a world-first last Friday, and not a shrug-worthy javelin-y world-first or an unsexy Penicillin-y world-first, an impossibly cool, slam dunk world-first. A slam dunk is called a slam dunk for a reason. Let’s please cling onto this, and perhaps as a nation, become besotted by Australian female basketball to the point where its players start popping up in NW and Who and on celebrity episodes of game shows hosted by Eddie McGuire. A female Australian basketball player needs to be papped stumbling out of a club at 2am with ecstasy saucer-pupils and a cast member from Home and Away wrapped around her. Australian female basketball players need to Tweet and cheat and become household names. WNBL games need to be broadcast on television. WNBL needs to change its name to something without a W. It could have tremendous knock-on effects that will impact those who don’t give a fuck about sports past being impressed by the odd acrobatic feat. We need this insurgence in order to detonate the footballer worship that currently plagues us and causes otherwise intelligent humans to develop a blind spot that excuses football culture: the horribly stunted, degrading view of women; the (fucking weird) group sex fetish; commentators shoving microphones in player’s post-game faces and expecting insight. There’s too big an industry built around these guys. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see the entire football culture crumble? All we need to do is stop watching, stop caring, to be the fickle fairweather fans we are every four years when the Olympics roll around and we become experts on double trap shooting.
There was a period in the early ‘90s in Australia when basketball suddenly shot into consciousness. NBA games started being broadcast regularly on free-to-air television for the first time since its inception, and kids around the country began buying, trading and selling basketball cards, which retailed for close to $10 a packet, an inexcusable price we all found ways to excuse. This wasn’t just a youth fad though: stores dedicated to the selling and trading of cards popped up; at least two monthly magazines (Beckett, and the one that wasn’t Beckett) thrived by simply listing the ‘value’ of most cards – basically a stock-market broadsheet for bits of cardboard; while numerous books, magazines, figurines and other basketball-related bits flooded the country. It’s funny in retrospect how wide-spread the mayhem was, but it is proof that a basketball fad is not outside the realms of possibility. Christ, if a definitively damning Four Corners report and Tracy Grimshaw’s amazing decimation of group-sex-fiend/opportunist/wacky TV personality Matthew Johns couldn’t kill his career or the commonly held belief he is a harmless scamp, then perhaps Elizabeth Cambage dunking at the Olympics will be the first step in a cultural shift. Maybe it is that easy. Why not women’s basketball? The players would make infinitely better role models/tabloid news fodder/interview subjects/photo subjects than the inarticulate NRL players currently bumping overseas atrocities down the running order on the evening news every time they get drunk and sexually assault someone. Plus, now that Australian women are dunking at Olympic level, it’s a whole new ball game.