An Aussie Basketballer Just Made History By Breaking A Record Last Set By Michael Jordan
It was the day an Aussie basketballer made international history.
Australians woke up to the news Wednesday morning that 26-year-old Liz Cambage from Melbourne etched her way into the history books scoring a staggering 53 points in America’s WNBA -- the highest standard of women’s basketball in the world.
Cambage, who measures in at a jaw-dropping 203cm and plays the centre position, plays for the Dallas Wings and finished the 104-87 victory over New York with 53 points, on 77 percent shooting and 10 rebounds.
So, who was the last man to register the same stat-line (50+ points, 75 percent+ shooting and 10+ rebounds) in the NBA? Legendary Michael Jordan on March 7, 1996.
Little Lizzie was just five years old at the time.
Today is seriously a watershed day for Australia and women’s sport, one which should be acknowledged and celebrated accordingly -- just like that March day when MJ made history.
And in an environment where equality in sport continues to create debate and change yet still is a work in progress, one can’t help but wonder what the reaction would be if Cambage’s display was produced by a man. Say by Aussie young-gun Ben Simmons, who’s making waves in the NBA and was recently crowned Rookie of the Year. I reckon the PM would be calling for a public holiday Bob Hawke/America’s Cup style circa 1983.
As a long-time basketball writer and broadcaster, and someone who’s watched Cambage on court since she was 18, today is momentous for many reasons. Her towering height meant she was a weapon from a young age -- she dominated against grown, much more experienced women as a teenager.
She was the number two WNBA draft pick in 2011 and had a tough initiation at the Tulsa Shock. Internationally, she announced herself on the world stage in 2012 with the Australian Opals at the London Olympics. At 21, she moved to China, alone, and took up a lucrative professional contract. On the eve of the 2014 World Championships she broke her leg during a practice game and was sidelined for a year.
Cambage would experience some low points and lose her passion for the game. She was suspended from a national camp for missing a training session in favour of attending a music festival and found herself in the headlines for antics off-court rather than on. Someone who had all the talent in the world was frequently questioned about her commitment and drive for a sport she could dominate.
Come the 2016 Olympics, the Opals failed on the big stage but Cambage was back to her best and proved unstoppable. Australia’s greatest basketballer, and a WNBA legend in her own right, Lauren Jackson told me at the time that when Cambage was at her best, nobody in the world could stop her.
Last year, Cambage returned to Melbourne to play in the national league -- the WNBL -- for the first time in five years. She proved unstoppable at both ends of the floor, and registered a season-high 44 points and found herself embroiled in some controversy for good measure. I believe her stunning display in New York today, and the solid campaign she is producing on return to the US, stems from that season back home with the Melbourne Boomers.
It got her in shape and form and rekindled some of that passion as people of all ages packed out stadiums around the country to watch her live in action. At the end of each home game, hundreds and hundreds of kids filled the court in Melbourne’s outer suburbs as an exhausted Cambage, who’d usually taken her side on her broad shoulders and lifted them to victory, propped herself up at a table and signed every autograph and posed for every photo. Once upon a time she was in a place where she had no interest in doing that kind of thing but I believe her connection with the fans and grassroots basketball has ignited something in the player everyone in basketball knows she can be.
As basketball fans around the world, proud Aussies and women’s sport advocates celebrate today, and the general population jumps online to catch Cambage’s highlights, I can’t help but think about those kids.
The thousands who met “Liz” last season and have a precious memory to show for it will have woken up today and discovered what the basketballer they shared a special experience with, the girl from Melbourne, achieved.
Because of Liz, they are the real winners.