Heading into the strike-shortened 1998-1999 season, the Spurs signed the Michael Jordan of Australian basketball. At least that’s how I remembered the signing of Andrew Gaze. I’m sure people weren’t using the term “Michael Jordan of Australian basketball”, but to my 12-year-old mind, the best baller from down under had to be pretty damn good. Right? You don’t become the best ever in your country without impressing a few people.
Little did I realize that Gaze and Jordan have about as much in common as me and Mark Twain. Sure, we both dabble in stringing words together, but that’s were the similarities end. Gaze joined the Spurs as a 33-year-old, 6’7”, 200 pound shooting guard with graying hair. He was also known for eschewing the art of dunking. But this was the summer I discovered message boards and their “OMG, [insert new player’s name here] is the answer to all our problems! Lets trade [insert starter’s name here] and totally rebuilt around [new player]! Come Pop, do it!” nature. So to me, Gaze was somebody.
Unfortunately, Gaze only played that one season with the Spurs, logging 58 minutes over 19 games and scoring 21 points during the season. Apparently, according to his wikipedia page, Gaze battled injury most of the year. He did win a championship ring with the team, so he has that going for him. At the time I was disappointed with how little he produced. I mean, this was the best Australian basketball player ever?
Gaze never really fit in with the NBA for some reason. Maybe he was too nice of a guy. He is now a popular public speaker, described as “enthusiastic, energetic and colourful individual with a wonderful sense of humour”, and has an “infectious personality”. Perhaps teams didn’t see him as that competitive player they wanted, despite his success in Australia. His preference for lay ups as opposed to dunks might have suggested to some teams that he wasn’t athletic (he really wasn’t). The Spurs signed him because of his shooting abilities, but during his one season in San Antonio he shot 32%.
If Gaze’s career in America was disappointing, his time playing for Seton Hall and internationally was superb. Gaze led Seton Hall to the 1989 NCAA finals, where they lost to Michigan in overtime. His play in the National Basketball League and on the international stage is where he made his hame. He debuted at 18, led the league in scoring 14 times, was named MVP seven times and the most efficient player from 1990-1997 (the only player to win the award). Gaze played in five Olympic games, carrying the flag for Australia in the 2000 Sydney games, and he is the second highest scorer in World Championship history.
Maybe Gaze wasn’t the key piece of the ’99 championship team. Ok, so he definitely wasn’t the key piece. However, Gaze has a special place in my memory of that team. He was the first player I remember hearing unnecessarily high praise and expectations of only to see minimal to no return from. James White, Ian Mahinmi and James Gist know what I’m talking about. This isn’t a knock on Gaze, who is obviously a great player in his own right, just how I remember him. The slow, gray-haired, white Australian Michael Jordan who couldn’t jump but got me excited every time he entered.
Oh, and did mention he appeared in the Australian version of Dancing With The Stars?
You gotta love Andrew Gaze.