Not for the faint of heart or the lily of liver
WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL GERMANY v USA:FOR THE sports nerd, the Paralympics is a new logarithm every day. Every venue you walk into, you’re either seeing a sport you never heard tell of before or you’re being shown a twist on it you wouldn’t get your head around unless you saw it with your own two eyes. So when the televisual draw of Day One here was the epic men’s wheelchair basketball clash between Team GB (GB’s BB?) and Germany, there was only one place to go mooching yesterday. The Basketball Arena it was.
Turns out the USA and Germany are the two best women’s teams in the world. Turns out they met in the gold medal match four years ago and, if all goes to all, they’ll meet again at the business end here next Friday. Turns out the Messi and Ronaldo of women’s wheelchair basketball were down on the court in Becca Murray of the US and Germany’s Marina Mohnen.
Talk about lucking out. It was a bit like feeling frisky while idly lying on the couch, only to find out that Maggie Gyllenhall was at that very moment fixing her hair in your bedroom mirror.
Every so often here, you are reminded that the normal rules don’t apply. All is friendship and all is solidarity among Paralympians right up until the point where they step out on the court. At that point, it’s foe versus foe and the wider movement can go hang.
Wheelchair basketball is not for the faint of heart or the lily of liver. Acts and deeds that would amount to, frankly, downright bullying in the real world are acted and reacted to a dozen times inside the first quarter. Only at the Paralympics would it be deemed quite ordinary and wholly acceptable to dump a perfectly nice paraplegic girl out of her wheelchair and onto the floor with barely a backwards glance.
Not only is it okay, you get cheered for it and told to do it again if you have to.
As for the poor prone girl on the ground, she is left to fend for herself. It’s a fair bet that the first thing they teach you in wheelchair basketball is how to throw and catch the ball. But it surely can’t be too long afterwards that they teach you how to deal with being knocked over.
You don’t pick yourself up so much as you reanimate. When you fall over, the first thing you do is roll over. Then you push yourself up with your hands and, if have feet that go to the floor, you push off them and get your weight back in the chair. It’s like watching one of the Transformers go from a family car into a killer robot. Bastketus Prime.
When they did manage to stay upright, Germany and the US provided a thundering match. With Murray probing and picking passes all the way through, the States had the better of the first half right up to the break. They were six points up with two minutes to go until half-time but that was when Mohnen came into her own, taking a cool basket and setting up two more to leave the half-time score at 23-23.
Murray came into her own in the third quarter, finishing it off with a clever steal and basket to put the American 36-33 up going into the last 10 minutes.
But the Germans came out firing in the fourth quarter and scored nearly as much as they had in the whole of the first half. After the lead changed hands four times in the first three minutes of the quarter, Germany gradually got on top, mostly through Mohnen’s brilliant shooting.
Yet still it stayed on a knife edge. With three minutes to go, Germany led 43-42. With two left, they were up 45-44. Every shot was vital, every interception crucial, every wheelchair on its side just your tough luck.
With a minute and a half to go, Mohnen came up with the winning play, getting away a scoring shot while being fouled. It pushed Germany out of the tit-for-tat cycle of scoring and got them three ahead. When the Americans had to foul to stop the clock in the closing seconds, it was Mohnen who iced the two free throws.
It meant that Germany ended up winning 54-48. The Yanks will be waiting for them later in the competition and they may very well horde the available medals between them.
As for the bruises, well everyone who takes to the court will have those to count.