Rose-gold Boomers' legacy about more than just bronze medal win

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All those close calls for the Australian Boomers. Four fourth-place finishes at the Olympics since 1988.

All those tournaments playing for fifth place or seventh place or, gulp, worse.

A 2016 near-miss so brutal that Australian fans still can't say "Spain" without wondering if the "S" should be silent.

All of that was erased in Tokyo on Saturday night.

Finally, at long last, the Boomers can call themselves Olympic medalists.

The bronze ("Rose-gold Boomers!" if you ask Joe Ingles) medal win over Slovenia was the culmination of 65 years of blood, sweat and a veritable ocean of tears that stretched from Melbourne 1956 to the start of the Tokyo Games.

For the Boomers and their long-suffering fans, this game had all the potential to become yet another chapter of aching disappointment.

Until it wasn't.

Patty Mills and co ensured a place in Australian sports lore with a win for the ages, finally achieving what this special generation of players -- a group that also included players like Andrew Bogut, David Andersen, Brad Newley and David Barlow, who all suffered through the agonies of defeat without the ultimate success -- had long coveted.

But it wasn't just about the legacy of this group of players -- it was as much letting those who had come before be a part of such a historic moment.

Boomers assistant coach John Rillie, himself an Olympian who was part of the first post-Andrew Gaze squad in Athens in 2004, says he often wondered if he'd ever be able to be involved in something so special.

"Unbelievable. History was made and wow, what else can you say?", Rillie says.

"A lot of emotion goes through your mind, when you've been a part of this as a player and a team never getting to the point where they medalled, you're just trying to come through and be a part of something that was the first to do it.

"So when you're playing career is done and you can't get one of your goals or aspirations ticked off, you wonder if you'll get another opportunity to be involved in something like that."

Rillie, who joined head coach Brian Goorjian's staff weeks before the Olympics, when assistant David Patrick suffered a torn Achilles in a training mishap, says he could sense something brewing among the playing group from the moment he came on board.

"When we started (at the first training camp) in Irvine, you could just tell this group was special and they were really dialed into the cause," he says.

"To go through that with them and then to see all that emotion last night, especially with Patty's performance, and Joe, although statistically wasn't one of his greatest games but he had a huge impact.

"And then Delly and obviously Aron Baynes, who unfortunately wasn't at the (bronze medal) game, those guys have been putting in a lot of time and effort, not just basketball related. Working on the culture and the dynamics of the group, so people understand what it would mean to win a medal.

"Whatever comes out of this for those guys, it's well deserved."

For Chris Anstey, who came agonisingly close to a bronze medal in 2000 in Sydney, Saturday night was especially satisfying.

The towering centre was part of two luckless Olympic campaigns and said there was still an internal torment that those squads couldn't quite get over that final hurdle with the finish line in sight.

"Just incredible. It's a whole range of emotions. It's happiness, it's pride, it's excitement, it's the wonderment of what other level this could take the sport to in Australia," he says.

"But Luc Longley said it really well that the skeletons come out of the closet and dance for a little while because there's a little bit of sadness that we couldn't get it done earlier.

"We had the exact same aspirations and failed, we tried as hard as we could, but we didn't get there.

"We've sat in locker rooms after big wins and we've sat there after some heartbreaking losses. What it means to be in that locker room is important and I can only imagine the conversations, the beers with mates, the sense of achievement in that locker room would have been incredible."

Boomers legend Andrew Gaze captivated a national audience with a tearful reaction to the bronze medal triumph, revealing that he felt like a very small part of the medal win because of the passion and effort he had put into the cause over five Olympic campaigns.

And while Gaze and Anstey's 2000 Olympics ended in bitter defeat to Lithuania in the bronze medal game, Anstey doesn't want to take any credit away from the current team who finally completed the race for a medal.

"I think those guys won it," he says. "Since we finished fourth in 1988 we've proven that it was possible to get towards the end but this group really proved it was possible to win a medal.

"We thought we knew we could, but yesterday made everything possible."

Having played with the likes of Rillie and fellow Boomers assistant Matt Nielsen, and played extensively under Boomers head coach Brian Goorjian, Anstey was particularly pleased for the coaching staff, who finally got some reward after so many years of disappointment as players.

"It was really good to see John Rillie, Matty Nielsen and Jason Smith there in the locker room among the players," he says. "I know what that will mean to them as well because they went through the tough times.

"It will never be about them but they get to enjoy and celebrate it and they get to tell the new group some old stories and grow that culture even more so."

With these Olympics played in front of largely empty arenas, Rillie revealed how the senior leadership group of Ingles, Mills, Dellavedova and Baynes was continually trying to make the Boomers' past a large part of its present and future.

It became readily apparent to Rillie during the Boomers' pre-Olympics camps that there was a lot of time and effort being put into bringing up the past and players and teams that had come before.

"Because of what's gone on with COVID-19, people probably don't get to see some of the things going on," he says.

"What I'm talking about is with this senior leadership group, they're really trying to bring back and enrich the basketball community with the history of the Boomers.

"As a former player, seeing what these guys are trying to do, these guys will go down in history as the first-ever medallists, they also really want to make sure they appreciate and understand what has come before them.

"With myself and Matt Nielsen's experiences, that was brought into the fold in its own unique way. It's very sacred that we got to be a part of and witness this, it will always be a lasting memory.

"But I can say to all the former players, and everyone who was a Boomer once is always a Boomer, that this group really wants to make sure that players before them are recognised in some shape or form.

"The dynamic that Joe, Patty, Delly and Baynesy have created, bringing the former players into the fold, I think it will drive it to the next level."

While the medal is an amazing achievement, in Anstey's mind the legacy left by Mills and Ingles in particular will be even greater when they've finished playing for the Boomers and the culture that they've helped ingrain is still as strong as ever.

"It is their defining legacy. Don't undersell what they've achieved in the US," he says. "What Patty has done in the NBA, he's sacrificed as much as anyone and could have a bigger role but that's the pro he is.

"That weight of expectation that he and Joe carried in particular, to carry that on top of everything else is just an extraordinary effort.

"It will define their legacy but it's also much more than that, both Joe and Patty have led from the front and I think that legacy will be even greater when they've finished playing basketball."