Remember basketball? That faintly repetitive sport played mostly by people with pituitary gland issues that peaked about the time Michael Jordan sold his billionth sneaker.

Australians suddenly do and we're embracing the game like a long lost child. Some of us are even watching the NBA playoffs, not just pretending to play them on our PS4s.

This is not because the National Basketball League started to show signs of life this season after two decades in a coma. That was the egg or the chicken - or whichever comes second.

Basketball is big in Australia again for the same reason golf became big when Greg Norman was finding new and exciting ways to lose major championships. The way cricket became big when Shane Warne was tearing it up on the pitch and not just on his smartphone.


We're watching basketball because we're suddenly very good at it. Well, Ben Simmons is.

Simmons, born and raised in Melbourne, is not just another of the increasingly impressive number of Australians - yeah, okay, and the odd Kiwi - making an indecent living playing in the NBA.

During a rookie season that has exceeded even the outrageous hyperbole and expectation that surrounds No1 draft picks, Simmons has taken big strides towards becoming the best basketballer on the planet.

It was reported this week Simmons' No25 Philadelphia 76ers jersey was already the 10th most purchased. As much as points, rebounds and assists (apparently, he has had quite a few of those, too), this seems the most appropriate way to measure the rapid progress of a young superstar in a retail conscious sport.

What this growing status and the accompanying international fame mean to Simmons seems obvious. His next contract will feature more zeros than Chris Martin's batting records, he will need Tinder about as often as Yao Ming needs a stepladder and he has paid for his last drink.

And if Simmons requires any advice about what it takes to be the best basketballer on the planet? He can get it from his mentor LeBron James. Because, hey, who doesn't spend their down time hanging with LeBron?

What Simmons' emergence means to basketball in his home country is somewhat less predictable. But the signs are that, at the very least, he is going to give a sport that has struggled for exposure in a crowded market much needed impetus.

There has been no problem getting Australian kids to play basketball. Suburban courts are so crowded, they don't stop the clock for time-outs or fouls because they need to get the next game on.


The problem has been that, since the glory days of the NBL in the early 1990s, the number of people watching local games has dwindled. But now, suddenly, the old NBL days seem more than just the source of fond memories about long-retired cult heroes.

That is because one of those cult heroes, Simmons' father Dave, became a star with the NBL's Melbourne Tigers alongside Australia's then most famous home grown talent Andrew Gaze and stayed to raise a family.

Australia has been a major beneficiary of the American basketballing diaspora - the resettlement of the many former college and fringe NBA players who make a living from the game outside the United States.

Dante Exum, the son of another American NBL ex-pat Cecil Exum, was drafted at No5 by the Utah Jazz, although injuries have disrupted his early NBA seasons.

However, to claim the Celtics' Melbourne-born superstar Kyrie Irving have proven unsuccessful. Predictably so given Irving's parents did not spend enough time in Australia to distinguish Vegemite from sump oil; let alone to have to their son begging to represent the Boomers instead of the Dream Team.

But Simmons is not only bona fide Australian (American commentators talking excitedly about how he played "Aw-stray-yen Rules" is the clincher), he is a bona fide superstar in the making.

Michael Jordan's breathtaking brilliance inspired the growth of basketball worldwide in the 1990s.

The home-grown Simmons is stopping erstwhile sceptics making clichéd references about basketball's predictability - "Just start the game at 99-all and play for 30 seconds!" - and reminding us of its incredible athleticism.

Simmons' inability to consistently hit jump shots is considered a significant weakness. Yet the lack of a consistent outside shot only highlights the astonishing leap and silky moves that allow him to get inside his opponents so easily.

Of course New Zealand has its own hoops inspiration in Oklahoma City Thunder star Steve Adams, a behemoth who has had more blocks than the Lego Museum.

The best sign of Simmons' incredible rise? He's so good, we might not even try to claim a piece of the Adams action by calling him Australasian.

Richard Hinds is a leading Australian sports commentator.