Remember Donovan Mitchell’s commercial from earlier this summer, the one in which he promoted his shoes alongside the movie “Spider-Man: Far From Home”?
Consider this the sequel.
Team USA schedule
World Cup exhibitions games:
Thursday • USA vs. Australia, at Melbourne, 3:30 a.m. MDT
Friday • USA vs. Australia, at Melbourne, 10 p.m. MDT
Monday • USA vs. Canada, at Sydney, 3:30 a.m. MDT
Mitchell, “Spida”-themed shoes and nickname in tow, traveled all the way to Melbourne, Australia, along with the rest of Team USA to play in two FIBA World Cup warmup games against the Australian national basketball team. One indication of the distance: the times these games will be played at. Game 1 is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Australia’s Eastern time zone, which means a 3:30 a.m. tipoff in Mountain Daylight Time. Game 2 is Saturday at 2 p.m., but in Utah, that means a 10 p.m. tip on Friday.
Funnily enough, there’s another tie: These two games will be played at Marvel Stadium. Yes, that Marvel. Melbourne’s Docklands Stadium has sold its naming rights to the Walt Disney Co., as it tries to promote the movies the long-running comic-book venture has made into international icons.
Just like those Marvel movies, a whole lot of people are going to watch these exhibition games. The stadium typically hosts Australian rules football matches, but the organizers are building a custom elevated basketball court to place in the middle of the field, with seats surrounding the hardwood. Those field tickets are expensive, currently going for over $100 AUD a piece on resale sites, though fans can sit in the upper decks of the football stadium for about $30 each. Capacity is about 55,000, and organizers say they’ve sold over 90,000 tickets for the two games so far.
Those Marvel Stadium creative types are also playing into the movie tie in another way: concessions. They’ve decided to have a contest between their typical Australian fare — fish and chips, Tim Tam donuts, and meat pies — and American food classics like hot dogs, nachos, and Philly cheesesteaks. The website announcing the food options asks “WHICH SIDE ARE YOUR TASTEBUDS ON?”
Oh, and of course, there’s the actual basketball happening: two important warmup contests for teams that have something to prove at this year’s World Cup. For Australia, it’s about firmly establishing itself among the elite in world basketball. While the Australians have never won a medal in an Olympics or a World Cup, they got very close in the 2016 Olympics, making it to the semifinals and then losing the third-place game to Spain by one point.
For the U.S., the priority is for a relatively inexperienced squad to show it can still be the dominant force in winning the tournament, despite a dearth of NBA All-Stars. Only Boston’s Kemba Walker and Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton made the All-Star team last year among the 13-man USA roster; young players like Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Boston’s Jayson Tatum are trying to bump themselves up to that next level.
With one of the most international-heavy rosters in the NBA for the past few seasons, one major topic of discussion in the Jazz’s locker room — and source of friendly arguments — is the outcome of these international faceoffs.
For Mitchell and Australia’s Joe Ingles, these two games will be recounted for years to come, especially if they end up guarding one another. Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich even told UtahJazz.com he expected the play between Ingles and Mitchell to be “devilishly relentless."
“I don’t know what to expect. I’ve played him in practice and whatnot, but I’ve never played him in an actual game,” Mitchell told The Tribune. “Coming into this, I’m excited. I’m expecting the trash talk, him being annoying.”
Perhaps that’s already started, with Ingles stating his intentions going into the contest. When asked about the prospect of playing Mitchell this week, Ingles said only, “I might get my first dunk on someone in a while.”
OK, it’s not exactly saving the world. But with year-long bragging rights at stake, these games could be worth the price of admission.