Wheelchair Basketball has been part of the Paralympic Games since Rome in 1960 but as the national anthems of both Great Britain and Germany rang round the North Greenwich Arena, there couldn’t have been a set of prouder players on the court, of either nationality, since those halcyon days of the initial Paralympics.
The difference between the two teams of experienced players though couldn’t have been more remarkable, the Great British team, egged on by huge home support from inside the arena, looked pumped and ready to take on the world. The team talk by their coach, Murray Treseder only served to stoke up the expectation. Germany on the other hand, looked workmanlike, steadfast and determined to show one of the favourites for the gold medal that this was not going to be an easy start for the home team.
The couple of minutes of the match saw the scores remain level with both sides taking a couple of chances to score, with Bywater, Jama and Munn scoring for Great Britain whilst Germany made heavy weather to keep infront. That all changed in three minute spell in the first quarter in which Germany’s Bienek started scoring points for fun. By the end of the first quarter Germany looked commanding, resolute and typically stout as they raced to a 21-10 lead.
Bienek was in inspired form for Germany as he threw 2 further points from free throws in the last 20 seconds of the quarter and that was despite being under some very intense pressure from the partisan crowd.
The second quarter saw the German’s stoke up the early pressure; the slight indiscipline of the British side gave their opponents the impetus they needed to really start stretching their lead and give fair warning that they are team that deserves respect and just the right amount of fear that goes along with possible Paralympic champions. From nowhere the British team started to chip away the points, from 34-18 down, they pulled it back to 34-27. This was a much better display by the British team and in small part helped by London Capital’s Simon Munn finding his range throughout on free throws and from well worked possession.
The third quarter got off to the most perfect start for the Bulldogs as Sagar struck early to reduce the difference to five points, in itself a lovely piece of ball control and throwing, it was much more than that as it gave notice to the German team, that despite being very much in control of the game for lengthy periods, they weren’t going to win the game by a cantre. The game was becoming alive, the crowd inside the venue sensed it and the players responded by going basket for basket and foul for foul. Both Jama and Bywater were coming into their own; the sheer raw determination of Bywater coupled with the graceful, almost artistic display of Jama’s throwing ability was almost poetry like.
With three minutes to go of the third quarter, a time was called and the sixteen point advantage the Germans held was all of a sudden down to a single point. This was the reason why Great Britain had gained such an incredible reputation since the last Paralympics. Two free throws were given to the Bulldogs and Sagar made no mistake as Great Britain finally took the lead on the night and it got better as the team hit 50 points right on the stroke of the hooter denoting the end of the third quarter. A 16 point to Germany had been turned around and now Great Britain had the advantage.
The game of basketball, when played with guile and openness can be a truly inspiring sight to watch, when played between two teams in wheelchairs, it just becomes incredible. The game went back and forth in the fourth quarter and the Germans once more decided enough was enough and came back at the Bulldogs. Although not a point ridden as the third quarter initially, with five and half minutes to go on the clock the German team had a one point advantage. Sheffield’s Terry Bywater, surely Great Britain’s man of the match, looked so determined though to undermine the authority of the opposition on his own that the Yorkshireman gave even more than absolutely necessary for the cause. To be fair though as the world’s audiences witnessed during the Olympics a couple of weeks ago, they breed them tough in that part of the U.K.; especially it transpires, in Sheffield.
With 20 seconds on the clock, the score stood at 66 points all, it had been an intense game, thrilling for the audiences at Greenwich, even more so for the millions watching on television. It would have had an even more thrilling end, on par with the thought of Sir Geoff Hurst scoring against Germany in 1966 with seconds to go as the clock showed a second left and Bywater took an outrageous risk by aiming for the hoop. Such is the stuff that legends are made of and although perhaps not ready for that status to be confirmed upon his shoulders just yet, he saw the ball agonisingly hit the rim and bounce back out..
Extra time proved too much for the Great Britain side and yet both teams can be proud for the spectacle they provided for the crowd. Germany may have sneaked it at the very end but they were certainly rattled by a very good British side.
Great Britain: Choudhry, Highcock, Sealy, Bywater, Munn, Pollock, Jama, Byrne, Sagar, Finbow, Hall, Orogbemi.
Coach: Murray Treseder.
Germany: Lohmann, Ismail, Heimbach, Gundert, Bienek, Magenheim, Kress, Passiwan, Wolk, Haller, Boehme, Koehler.
Coach: Nicolai Zeltinger.
Final score Great Britain 72 – 77 Germany
Man of the match: Bywater (Great Britain)
The day’s results from the Men’s Basketball.
United States of America 50-59 Turkey
Spain 67-40 Italy
Japan 53-68 Canada
Columbia 45- 63 Poland
Ian D. Hall