By the time Patty Mills scored his 42nd point of Australia’s bronze medal playoff against Slovenia, it was clear the Boomers would banish one of the country’s most nagging sporting curses.
Around Australia, calluses were forming on the thumbs of TV viewers flicking between the Boomers’ triumph and their countrywoman Nicola McDermott’s fight for gold in the high jump.
After every attempt to clear the rising bar, McDermott wrote her feelings down in a journal.
The rest of us unleashed our feelings on our families and pets via yelps and squeals.
The lesson, digested one last time after McDermott had finished and the Boomers got home, was that you win silver and bronze, as opposed to losing gold.
Mills, who has long been acknowledged in basketball circles as a leader of rare quality, has now extended that reputation to most living rooms in Australia.
You could see it as just sport, or you could be blindly optimistic and hope that Mills and the Boomers have imparted some lessons on the country’s resoundingly unpopular leadership class.
Lesson one: Lead by example
Mills’s career-best scoring effort in the game that mattered most was an obvious example of leading from the front.
He is the same figure off the court.
While some celebrities set up charitable foundations as tax-dodging vanity projects, Mills uses his to make what he’s termed a “tangible difference”.
When the 2020 NBA season restarted, he donated his entire $1.5 million salary to fund the work of Black Lives Matter Australia, Black Deaths in Custody and The We Got You campaign.
He is a man who will not only hold the hose, but buy more hoses if that’s what it takes.
Lesson two: Surround yourself with the right people and support them
Lost in the glory of the moment as the Boomers claimed their medals was that Brian Goorjian hadn’t had his best few days as coach.
In the semi-final capitulation against the USA, his best defender, Matisse Thybulle, sat on the bench as the Americans went on a 17-0 tear.
Against Slovenia, linchpins Mills, Thybulle and Jock Landale were simultaneously benched with seven crucial minutes remaining in the game.
Yet Goorjian’s squad selection was canny and the fraternal atmosphere he created among his players was clear to see throughout the tournament.
Like few other Australian teams, the Boomers were a brotherhood.
The coach also resisted the urge to downgrade the role of out-of-form star Joe Ingles, who didn’t look himself in the semi.
Trusted to do his thing, Ingles came good when it mattered, sinking open threes and imposing himself.
Lesson three: Don’t persist with the wrong personnel
At the other end of the scale was poor Matthew Dellavedova, fumbling and bumbling and fouling his way through the past fortnight.
Whatever hardcore basketball fans think of him, he simply wasn’t the 2015-16 NBA champion version of himself who could be relied upon to niggle and burrow and turn things his team’s way.
In the final game, “Delly” sat for all bar a couple of minutes of play.
It probably hurt his ego, but from Goorjian, it was the right call.
The team comes first and when you’re struggling as badly as Dellavedova was you’re better off slapping backs and geeing up teammates from the sidelines.
Lesson four: Every team needs someone who relishes the thankless tasks
What is there left to say about Thybulle’s Olympic campaign?
Every step of the way, he was bounding up, down and across the court to deflect and steal opposition passes, cut off scoring opportunities, grab important rebounds, or slink to the rim and put away missed shots.
In the NBA where Thybulle is a rising star, defence isn’t always the number one priority and it certainly doesn’t generate headlines.
But when done like Thybulle does it, it not only makes the team better, but the work ethic spreads to other players on the roster.
He is the new treasure of Australian basketball — humble, hardworking, ruthless, consistent and often downright brilliant.
Lesson five: Have empathy for those outside the circle
The elephant in the room as the Boomers grabbed the Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags to pose for their medals was the absence of superstar Ben Simmons, who’d withdrawn from the Games after a difficult NBA post-season.
Could Simmons have elevated Australia to the gold medal game? Maybe.
Perhaps he might have altered the team balance too, downgrading the key contributions of Jock Landale and other lesser lights.
Yet all the public disappointment in Simmons’s decision came from outside the Boomers squad.
Here again Mills’s leadership came to the fore.
It could have been a them-and-us moment, but Mills showed only empathy and care.
“The number one fact and characteristic of our group is how we support each other through the good, bad and ugly, whatever it may be, and Ben isn’t an exception to that,” Mills said at the time.
“No matter what he does, I and the team will continue to support him because this is a safe place.
“Everyone needs to know and understand that now, more than ever, we need to support Ben on his journey.”
For Australia, largely thanks to Mills, the journey has ended with men’s basketball’s first Olympic medal, and probably a lot of basketball converts around the country.
Perhaps the main lesson is this: Just get Patty Mills involved and the rest will fall into place.