As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Sydney Olympics, ESPN takes a look at some of the memories, the characters and the moments of the Games.
Even after 20 years of interviews, Andrew Gaze still isn't sick of answering questions about his experience captaining the Australian team at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Not even close.
"I love talking about it every time," the five-time Olympian, now 55, tells ESPN.
For the Australian basketball legend, the opportunity to be the flag-bearer for an opening ceremony in his home country proved to be a rare moment that made the on-court competition an afterthought. It was one of those moments that didn't need perspective or hindsight to be appreciated. Gaze led the charge for the Australian Olympic team in only the second Games the country has hosted, after Melbourne in 1956.
"At the time, the enormity was there," Gaze said.
"You understand that this is a special honour, and you have a great privilege and incredible sense of pride. All those things, absolutely, you feel at the time. And I didn't just feel it for me. There was this strong pride and recognition about the history of the moment.
"To this day, I am certain of the fact that I would not have been given that honour if it weren't for what had come before me -- and, in particular, with my dad."
That man was Lindsay Gaze, a longtime coach of the Australian Boomers and as influential a figure as any in the country's basketball lore. The elder Gaze was a member of every Olympic campaign from 1960 to 1984 and passed that torch to his son, who became the face of Australian basketball.
Going into the 2000 Olympics, basketball wasn't regarded as a mainstream sport in Australia, and it didn't come close to the sort of popularity it has as the 2021 Tokyo Games draw near. That was among the reasons the younger Gaze was surprised when he was afforded the honour of captaining the Australian team, and he saw it as an opportunity to raise the profile of the sport.
"There was a great sense of pride and obligation to the sport," Gaze says. "Back then, to think someone playing basketball would get this level of recognition, it was unheard of. It was not expected -- that's for sure. It was thought that some of the more high-profile sports might have held sway in the decision-making. So there was a great sense of pride that the sport is also being recognised as well as myself."
In front of a home crowd, especially at an Olympics, there's a strain of thinking that suggests that the best course of action is to treat the contests like any other game, to distance yourself from any emotions of the historic moment in order to not have a negative effect on your gameplay. But Gaze encouraged his Boomers team to do the opposite during what he called a "once-in-a-century" moment.
"The message was more to enjoy the experience and embrace the moment and not try and fight it -- not trying to hide or squash some of those feelings that you're having," he says.
"I was a strong believer that embracing those feels, those very unique feelings [was the right course of action]. This isn't even a once-in-a-lifetime moment; it's a once-in-a-century type thing. You've gotta be able to accept and understand, internally, that this is something different, and you're going to have feelings you've never had before, so I said not to fight it and to embrace it [instead].
"The whole ideals of Olympism, you've got to try and absorb it and embrace it, rather than trying some mechanical way of ignoring it, which is trying to downplay it."
With that mindset, the Boomers' Olympics campaign got off to a shaky start before it became business as usual for a program trending upward. That tournament success quickly dwindled into what has become a haunting trend.
Early losses to Canada and FR Yugoslavia were quickly forgotten after Gaze led the Australians to significant wins over Russia, Angola and Spain, booking a spot in the quarterfinals and setting the stage for what the team hoped was a run toward the program's first medal.
Unfortunately, the Boomers fell to France in the semifinals -- a loss compounded by star big man Luc Longley's tournament-ending knee injury -- before going down to Lithuania in the bronze medal game. To add insult to injury, it was the Lithuanians who topped Australia in the bronze medal game of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The Boomers were unable to earn redemption in front of a rare home crowd.
"You always think of what could have been," Gaze said of the multiple fourth-place finishes.
"It was always a boyhood dream of mine -- and I'm sure most of the players that get to play for Australia and even in other sports -- to achieve the goal, the outcome, and that was to win a medal. When you don't do it, absolutely there's a level of disappointment.
"I think, if I reflect on my experiences at the Olympics, there's probably a tinge more regret about what happened in Atlanta, rather than Sydney. Sydney was great, but in those last two games that we played, you tried to be objective about your own performances and your team's performances -- we weren't as close as what we should've been. We had some hard-luck stories: Luc going down and getting hurt and the schedule and the way it unfolded presented us with some challenges.
"Ultimately, you say that we weren't good enough. In Atlanta, particularly that game against Lithuania, we were good enough. There's a couple plays you think back on and think 'if only.' That's probably the one that maybe hurts the most. We should've been closer -- I'm not trying to exonerate ourselves from our performance -- but because we weren't, it's maybe easier to move on than those ones where you come so perilously close."
A play here or there that can haunt a Boomer isn't exclusive to Gaze. For example: A dubious Patty Mills blocking call was perhaps the difference in the Boomers' walking away from the 2016 Rio Olympics empty-handed, rather than with that elusive medal. A missed free throw from Mills could've seen Australia win a bronze medal at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China, but it wasn't to be, as France edged Andrej Lemanis' team in the overtime period.
But like Gaze, Mills won't be remembered for any heartbreaking moment. Instead, his legacy will be as one of the Boomers' most productive and reliable leaders. Both will go down among the best international players in history, the lifeblood of their respective Boomers teams, and with Mills still with plenty of chapters to author, there's a chance that he could join Gaze in a historic Australia group.
"I'm happy to champion the cause for Patty Mills," Gaze said of the Boomers' current captain as a potential Australian flag-bearer for Tokyo 2021.
"I think he would be an outstanding selection for both his performances on the court but also the way in which he's embraced other activities and doing his best from afar to continue to be conscientious of the welfare of Australians. He's done it in a very classy, appropriate, welcoming way that is much needed.
"He, along with fortunately all the others that have played in the NBA, there's not one of them you look at and say, 'Ooh, jeez, I'm not sure he's done the right thing.' We've been blessed, as a sport, to have amazing ambassadors on this world stage that do extraordinary things. I know that because of the incredible success as a nation, where we punch way above our weight division, there are many worthy of that honour, but none more worthy than Patty. But there are many that are absolutely as worthy."