When the Boomers and Team USA almost came to blows

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Gaze relives 2000 scuffle with Vince Carter (1:56)

Andrew Gaze shares his memories of the Boomers clash with Team USA back in 2000, and the fireworks that erupted on-court. (1:56)

The tennis complex at Melbourne Park, on the banks of the Yarra is usually the domain of polite applause, occasional recognition of a fine rally or immaculate drop shot. 19 years ago however it was very different.

The chorus cascaded down the rows of seats at Rod Laver Arena as incensed Australian fans serenaded NBA star Vince Carter with a timeless chant usually reserved for opposition cricketers and football umpires.

"Carter's a w----r!"

"CARTER'S A W----R!"

"CAR-TER'S A W----R!"

It was September 9, 2000, and the visiting Team USA was taking on Australia in a warm-up game in Melbourne ahead of the Sydney Olympics.

It was the first time an American team comprised of NBA players had visited Australia and expectations were high that not only would Team USA put on a show, but that the Boomers were, finally, really capable of competing with the brash and cocksure stars of the best league in the world.

Only minutes earlier, the capacity crowd had oohed and aahed as the NBA professionals had warmed up with expected panache; Carter launching and making progressively longer jumpshots, the finale a veritable moonshot that arced high and landed true - a shot to make even a modern-day Splash Brother proud.

But now, the crowd had, in the blink of an eye, it seemed, turned on the Toronto Raptors superstar.

His crime of all things? To have gotten tangled up with hometown hero Andrew Gaze.

Closing out hard on a jumper, Carter took exception to Gaze kicking out his legs in an attempt to draw a foul. In the entanglement that followed, the reigning NBA slam dunk contest champion stood over the Boomers icon, glowered down at a prostrate Gaze, and told him in no uncertain terms what he thought of the play.

Seattle guard Gary Payton -- never one to keep his mouth shut -- regarded Gaze with a contemptuous look and delivered some choice words of his own, leading to Shane Heal -- not exactly a wallflower himself -- to insert himself into the fracas and let the haughty Americans know they weren't in Kansas anymore.

The teams had to be separated after some push-and-shove, the Americans with their pride piqued going on to record an 89-64 win that was closer and more physical than the final margin would indicate.

Even more remarkably, in the post-game press conference, it had to be explained to a mildly bemused Carter exactly what the crowd chant meant.

Almost two decades later, Gaze chuckles about how it all unfolded.

"We were running a play and I took a shot from the top of the key and Vince was closing out hard," Gaze told ESPN. "And as I do, and as many have done, I kicked the leg out to try to draw a foul. And we went to the ground and he didn't take too kindly to that.

"I was on the ground and there was some standover type behaviour from him and then Hammer (Heal) comes in and it escalated a little from there.

"It's funny, because I love Vince Carter, he's still playing; and for me I didn't want to be part of this altercation in any shape or form and I felt bad that here's Vince Carter on foreign soil, and these guys were lauded coming in.

"They still had the Dream Team status and they had some really big names, and for us, we had great respect for them and straight after this happened you've got 15,000 people screaming 'Carter's a w----r'!

"And I didn't feel comfortable with that; I felt comfort that the home crowd was rallying behind me and the team. But in terms of the growth of the game and what this game was supposed to be about, it wasn't great."

Gaze now reveals the seeds of the confrontation were sown the day before the game, when the Americans largely repudiated any gestures of goodwill from their antipodean hosts. Between that and previous confrontations before and during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Team USA was mildly annoyed by what was perceived as a kind of disrespect from the Boomers.

"It was an accumulation of things," Gaze says. "We'd had some argy-bargy with them four years earlier in Atlanta, and I remember, the day before [the game in Melbourne], we were finishing a practice session and they [the US team] were coming in, we passed in the hallway with a bit of a 'hey how ya going?' and very much getting the cold shoulder.

"I remember a few of us thinking 'gee whiz, they've got a reputation for this level of arrogance and bravado but crikey, it's just blokes passing in the hallway'.

"Given their favouritism for what lay ahead, there was a general belief that maybe they weren't taking the game in the same spirit we were.

"So that engaged our excitement levels and determination. We knew we were severe underdogs but nevertheless, it was an era and a point in time where the culture of Team USA was not what it was or eventually became."

The Americans arrived in Australia already complaining about the lack of respect that had previously been afforded to more-highly credentialed teams of professional players.

And even after they had flexed their muscles as much as their vocal chords, they were still decidedly cranky.

"My motto is, you don't wake a sleeping dog. I felt a little disrespected," centre Alonzo Mourning said, toasting Team USA's fight.

Gaze says the Boomers took the Americans' angry masks as a back-handed accolade.

"It was a level of disdain for us and they were fiercely determined that it was all business and they weren't interested in making friends or any sort of chit-chat," Gaze says. "And they were very chirpy throughout the game - a lot of s--- -talking.

"We dished it as much as we copped it but they went to new levels. And when you're a team that has this huge advantage, we took it as a compliment because they were taking it as seriously as they would an NBA game.

"It was uncomfortable because it wasn't played in the spirit we were all hoping and expecting but it wasn't like we were choirboys either. We were going to show respect but we weren't going to lay down either.

"We got great value out of it, the sport got great value out of it. It was through an era where Basketball USA would look back on it and say they probably didn't embrace or have an understanding of international competition, as they do following that."

With a depleted Team USA coming to town next week for two warm-up games against the Boomers at Marvel Stadium, Gaze believes any attempt to downplay the talent levels of the NBA players on display could have a similar effect to what happened in 2000.

USA Basketball has been left with what is essentially a second-string outfit with a large contingent of All-Star players either unavailable or injured.

But Gaze cautions against underestimating any team coached by the legendary Gregg Popovich.

"Absolutely, they're going to have a really, really good team," Gaze says. "Now, it's not the creme de la creme or the uber elite, but the difference between them and the next level down is not overly significant, in regards to putting a team together that can be successful.

"They've got enormous depth of talent and there's going to be some great players that will be on show. And of course, arguably one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game looking after them.

"It's going to be a great spectacle but even just psychologically, I think Australia and other teams would be looking at this team and going in to the World Cup with a different level of optimism as opposed to what they've put on the floor at the Olympics and even the last World Cup.

"It doesn't have the same reputation as those teams but that doesn't mean this team won't be as good, if not better."

The Boomers squad has its core from the 2016 Rio Olympics largely intact, and Gaze believes the team is ready to stake its claim as one of the best in Australian basketball history.

Australia has never finished better than fifth place at the World Cup, having done so twice, in 1982 in Colombia, and in 1994 in Canada.

It's a record Gaze wants to see not only consigned to the past but eclipsed by a Boomers outfit finally stepping on to the medal dais for the first time at a World Cup or Olympics.

"I think purely from a talent standpoint it's as good as we've ever seen," Gaze says. "That doesn't make it the best team. The best team is the one that has the best results.

"But the nucleus of the team in Rio is very much still here, and that was a very good team that equalled the best result by an Australian team. It came perilously close to toppling the USA team and some would argue, if not for a dubious officiating decision, would have a medal around their necks."