Once upon a time in the ’90s, when the USA started including NBA players into their team, it was something we had never seen before as opponents were just happy to be on the same court with them. But every once in a while, there were players that didn’t care particularly for that and just wanted to ball out against them. One of them was the Australian sniper Shane Heal, also known as “The Hammer.”
Before the 1996 Olympics, team USA labeled as Dream Team III wanted to make sure they would maintain the status of being untouchable, wanting to destroy every country they played. Team USA was set to play Australia in an exhibition game to prepare for the Olympics in Salt Lake in front of their home fans.
Heal and the “Boomers” had a lot of respect for team USA, but at the same time, we’re not afraid and ready to battle with them. Heal recalled their mentality before the game:
“We’d seen other teams getting photos taken with them and autographs before and after games and things like that. We said that wasn’t the Australian way and we certainly weren’t handling the game like that.”Shane Heal, The Guardian
The game was very physical, as Team USA wanted to show who’s the boss from the start. Still, Heal got hot, as he was making problems for their defense, firing threes from everywhere and over everyone on the court. Hubie Brown, on the commentary, was loving it.
Near the end of the first half, Heal hit a three-pointer from the wing as Barkley closed out late on him and went aggressively underneath his legs, which made him hit the floor hard. The 6ft tall Heal didn’t appreciate that as he got into his face and let him know about it. Barkley seemed stunned for a second, being a much bigger guy and not expecting Heal to respond. The height and weight difference didn’t faze him as he chased him down the court, exchanged a couple of NFSW words, and bumped chests with Barkley. This is how Heal saw the situation:
“The thing with Barkley and I, it was just a dirty play. You just wouldn’t expect someone to make such a dirty play against someone that’s in the air, anywhere in the world. He just took my legs out and I landed on my back. It was just a really dirty play … he just ran straight through my legs. You definitely don’t expect that and you don’t expect it from an NBA superstar. When I got up and gave him a few choice words I remember him looking down and he said ‘What did you say?‘ I didn’t know whether he couldn’t understand the accent or he couldn’t believe what I’d just called him.”Shane Heal, The Guardian
Heal had a great game, finishing with 28 points, shooting 8-13 from the three-point line, but it wasn’t nearly enough as the USA won 118-77. Team USA would win gold in the 1996 Olympics, while Australia also had a good campaign finish fourth in the tournament, losing to the USA in the semifinals.
Shane Heal made a name for himself in that game, managing to have short stints in the NBA playing for the Timberwolves and the Spurs but not getting much playing time. He spent most of his career in the NBL, becoming a basketball legend in Australia.