Does a bronze medal feel like gold?
That was the question put to Boomers captain and flag-bearer Patty Mills and his right-hand man Joe Ingles minutes after they were handed the first Olympic medals ever won by an Australian men’s basketball team.
“Rose gold,” they said in unison.
Decades of trying and belief by generations of Australian basketball players and coaches were finally rewarded.
Third place is a hell of a lot better than fourth, which the Aussies have occupied too often.
Perhaps no bronze medal in Australia’s long history at the Olympic Games has ever meant so much to those who have earned it.
If you can find the vision of the medal ceremony, do yourself a favour and watch it.
The most touching moments of these Games have come from the necessity for winning athletes to pick medals up off the tray they are carried on and place them around the head of those athletes standing nearest them.
In Mills’s case, it was his mate Ingles.
As the tray moves down the line and the activity moves on to other players, keep your eyes on Mills.
He picks up the medal, stares down at it and you can almost feel the years of commitment and the effort of every game he’s ever played for the national team welling up inside him.
It’s too much. He buries his head in his hands and sobs.
Minutes before, he was the conductor on the court, his orchestra of players knowing what they had to do, a finely tuned basketball symphony.
But this team was built on the back of others – legendary names like Lindsay Gaze, first a player, then a coach, then a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
And his son Andrew who played at five Olympics, knowing the pain of finishing fourth more than once.
On Saturday night, seeing the team win bronze while he was in the commentary box, he cried too.
The Australian coach, Brian Goorjian, came from America and bought into the Australian basketball dream.
His last games with the Melbourne Tigers overlapped with Andrew Gaze’s first for the club.
Goorjian remembers arriving in Australia and seeing a guy sweeping the floor of the court before they played.
He was also the coach of the Australian U18s side, and the U20s side and the national team.
Welcome to the Gaze legacy.
Goorjian paid tribute to all who had been part of Australia’s basketball set-up over decades.
“I’ve never felt like this. I’ve coached obviously, look at me, for a million years, and I’ve never, on game day, felt this knotted up,” he said.
“It tells me how big this is … I’m nervous before games, but I’ve never felt like this.”
He looks at Mills and Ingles seated next to him.
“These two guys, what they’ve put into it, you can’t describe. You have to be in the room and feel it and see it.
“And the thought of letting them down, the thought of the alternative to this, was horrifying for me.
“All I could think about today was, this has just got to happen, it’s just got to happen.
“I came to Australia as a young man from America. Lindsay Gaze was the national coach for Australia.
“He built basketball stadiums and was also the national coach. And what everyone’s put into this, the culture of this, these two guys displayed at a level that’s never been displayed before tonight.
Mills was mostly quiet afterwards.
Worn out, no doubt, looking at the constant stream of messages from around the world pinging non-stop on his phone.
“It was one hell of a game … this was a massive team effort, everyone contributed to this win and to this bronze medal,” he said.
He credited every team member for their part, including Aaron Baines who departed injured early in the Olympic campaign, but Mills made sure he collected his medal and held it up to the cameras for their missing colleague to see.
He too was no doubt in tears watching his teammates deliver.
Mills gave everything in every game, top-scoring with 42 in the bronze-medal match.
“I just tried to leave it all out of there,” he said.
“I mean, it’s obviously a cliched thing to say, but the tank was very empty … you just knew you had to find deeper layers to be able to pull the best out of this whole team, and I think that’s what all of us have done, especially this player here to my right.
“We’ve been through a lot together on the court, off the court.”
Ingles took over the story so his captain could rest.
They have each other’s backs, like Goorjian said, on and off the court.
“We’re a tight-knit group that has been so invested in this for so long, especially the three of us here … like Patty said … we’ve given up our off-season to be with each other,” Ingles said.
“Like Patty, I’m also speechless.”
One of the Boomers players with leadership stamped all over him is Dante Exum — not that his captain is going anywhere just yet.
“I think for us to get on the podium is not only huge for us as a team, but for Australian basketball,” Exum said.
“I think we’re definitely going to set the standard that this is where we’ve got to be and we’re expected to be there [winning medals] every time.
“Patty. What do you say about Patty Mills? He’s just unbelievable, what he brings on the court, off the court, to the culture of the Boomers. I just hope I can carry that on when he steps down.
“I think all the guys that have been doing it for a long time, and the young guys that are stepping on it [the podium], that’s just going to be the standard for us and we’re going to carry that through — that culture — and hopefully it’s gold next.”
But rose gold now will more than suffice.
How does it feel, Patty?
“Heavy,” he said.
That would be the weight of the years, and all those who came before, that helped finally deliver an Olympic medal to the Australian men’s basketball team.
The best bronze medal anyone could ever win.