'Biggest night' for Aussie basketball falls flat

MELBOURNE, Australia -- You could just about hear the collective groan reverberating around Melbourne as one by one, they started falling like dominoes.

When Team USA's superstars began withdrawing from the FIBA World Cup squad, it meant they would no longer be taking part in the two highly anticipated friendlies against the Boomers at Melbourne's Marvel Stadium.

What had been billed some 18 months earlier as the greatest week in Australian basketball history turned out to be an almighty letdown, leaving thousands of fans feeling aggravated, disappointed and cheated.

Back in early 2018 and just weeks after the Australian friendlies were announced, Team USA confirmed its 35-man World Cup squad and the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden were all named on the roster.

You can certainly understand why Australian basketball fans were sent into a frenzy at the prospect of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see their NBA idols in the flesh.

But by tipoff on Thursday night, Gregg Popovich's Team USA barely resembled a B-grade squad. It was a depleted team, one which featured no James, no Durant, no Curry, no Leonard and no Harden.

There was no Anthony Davis. No Jimmy Butler. No Russell Westbrook. No Paul George. No Kyrie Irving. No Tobias Harris. No Kyle Lowry. No Damian Lillard. No Draymond Green.

"It's disappointing, you know. When we bought our tickets we were under the impression we'd be seeing Harden play," one fan, decked out in Houston Rockets gear, told ESPN. "That was wiped out pretty quickly, and there's not a whole lot we can do about it.

"To be honest, it's really not good enough. We've paid for something, and now that hasn't been delivered."

Instead, fans who had paid huge sums of money were forced to settle for a smattering of American youth. Talented? Sure. Future NBA All-Stars? Probably. But not what these fans had wanted and planned to see.

"We know these guys are good, but most Australian basketball fans don't know them. We want the stars," another disappointed fan told ESPN. "We're not getting any of that tonight."

Not only was Team USA significantly weaker than advertised, but the biggest drawcard on the Boomers team, Ben Simmons, was also out of action. The Philadelphia 76ers guard had committed to playing for his national team, but he too pulled out of the camp.

So misled were fans that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) was forced to step in and ensure promoter TEG Live offered refunds to all ticket holders.

"We acknowledge your disappointment regarding the changes," an email from TEG Live customer service read. "If you no longer wish to attend the game, we will arrange for cancellation and a refund as soon as practicable."

It was an offer that many clearly took up.

The sellout crowd which had been projected didn't turn out, and deep into the game, bays of vacant grandstand seats could still be seen away from the broadcast cameras.

Those who had opted not to take the refund were also left disappointed.

"$150 floor seats and you can't see the court. What a stitch-up," one disappointed spectator posted on Twitter.

The actual basketball court was sitting on an elevated platform some 93cm above ground level and the view from the majority of the 30 rows of floor seating was limited at best.

Those seated in the back rows of the floor area were situated around 35-40 metres away from the court. These were seats which cost anywhere from AU$150 to AU$450.

The sheer size of Marvel Stadium, an AFL football venue, meant reading the two scoreboards was an enormous challenge as well.

It became clear pretty quickly that it wasn't the hottest ticket in town.

"I love NBA basketball, and basketball in general, but you could not get me to pay money to see that game at Marvel," another fan posted to Twitter. "Will be about 14 good seats in the whole venue."

To say it was a horror show might be taking it a step too far, but it was pretty clear the event failed to live up to any of the hype as fans were left unhappy with the depleted squads, unhappy with the seating arrangement and unhappy with the unnecessarily oversized venue.

Probably not the best time to mention Game 2 is on Saturday afternoon.