“FOR significant service to basketball as a competitor at the national and international level, as an Olympic athlete, and as a mentor for women in sport.”
It might seem like a simple sentence – but to Australian basketball legend Michelle Timms OAM, it meant the world.
This was the reasoning behind her admittance into the Order of Australia as a Member (AM) in the General Division.
After one of the greatest Australian sporting careers on record – highlighted by Olympic medals, national and state representation and her standing as a WNBL and WNBA icon – it makes perfect sense to see her name celebrated on Australia Day last week.
Timms’ career is the quintessential story of sporting perseverance. The hardest worker. The most determined individual. The trend-setter. Blazer of new pathways. An evergreen contributor to her sport.
You could go on for thousands of words about her character, her achievements and her wondrous abilities on court, but ever the team player and someone to always look towards the bigger picture, Timms didn’t even think she was the best choice for the award.
She believes the OAM is more representative of the amazing work basketball has done as a whole for Australian women’s sport – through her beloved Opals and to all those who pioneered women’s basketball in our country. To the people who persisted a long time before it was acceptable to sweat or play against the boys or even be out on the court.
It was a recognition for all those who changed mindsets and general perception to make our sport inclusive for all.
“To be honest there are a lot more people in the community that deserve this award than me,” Timms said. “Having said that, this award represents our sport to a huge degree not just me… basketball deserves a slap on the back especially the women’s side.
“I honestly believe I was fortunate to play through an era which helped redefine the landscape for women’s sport; I feel the WNBL and in particular the Opals back in the 90s helped change the perception of female athletes.
“Through an era when it wasn’t so cool for women to run around and be tough and sweaty, I truly believe our sport helped change those attitude towards women in sport.”
“I’m also incredibly proud of playing through an era where it was seen as ‘uncool’ to sweat – where ‘tomboy’ was the tag you were given if heaven forbid you could compete against a boy yet, I believe that I was part of a true turning point for women’s sport in Australia.
“I believe that my Opals team mates helped redefine sportswomen in Australia and I believe the Opals legacy is not only about medals but about changing the way female athletes were perceived in the Australian landscape.
“The Opals’ success and attention shone so bright that it was the turning point or the start of a changing perception in Australia of female athletes… and I feel this honour is a reflection of that.”
It’s incredible to see such a legacy forged in basketball and have it live on throughout the decades. Ever since we first caught eye of Bulleen’s powerhouse pocket rocket – when she received her call up to the Victoria Metropolitan under-16 girls team in 1979 – Victoria has been enamoured with her story and especially hours upon hours of highlight reels.
But that is just one facet of Timms’ basketball passion. She’s not just a player and won’t rest on her prior achievements on the court. There’s always the next young girl, the next up-and-coming woman that she wants to help thrive. She’s walked back down the path she created to help others come through it too.
Looking back on her career after the cavalcade of significant accolades started rolling in allowed for Timms to really think about her favourite moments and her best impact.
“Late last year I saw an ad for a role with Women in Sport and through the interview process you had to suggest – drawing from your experiences – why you would be good in the role,” Timms said. “It immediately made me think about my experiences and evolution as a player and hand in hand a role model as I progressed through the ranks, but mostly through this confronting process it helped me compartmentalise my greatest achievements.
“I can honestly say that on reflection, my greatest achievement was not the first ever Olympic medal won by Basketball in 1996, for Australian men or women, or captaining the silver medal Opals in 2000 or being the first Australian to play in the WNBA… my greatest achievement without a doubt was the impact I had in other people’s lives as a role model.
“I never really understood the impact I had until I was a long time retired and although you always got letters from supporters and young and old men and women… you kind of just took it in your stride.
“But when I was awarded the FIBA Hall of Fame medal 12 months ago, it really made me reflect on my achievements, and what they really meant.
“I also cherished and reflected on all the messages I received, which were quite overwhelming – they came from young boys and girls to 40 to 50-year-old women and men… it was only then the true impact I had in people’s lives as an athlete.
“Often when you live the life of an athlete you don’t get it; you are just living the moment – but as a retired athlete you do.
“I was so proud to have impacted so many lives and not just girls, I was incredibly surprised by how many men sent me messages last year telling me how much I’d influenced their lives and the combination of the two, is by far my greatest achievement as an athlete.”
Whether playing or coaching domestic or at the highest levels of international competition, Timms has been passionate.
There are few Victorian basketballers who are as deserving as Timms for such an accolade. She was inducted to FIBA’s Hall of Fame, is a Basketball Victoria legend and part of Basketball Victoria’s Wall of Fame.
Such an incredible resume more than justifies her selection into the highest ranks of Australian civilian life. As a player, coach, ambassador and lifelong devotee of our game, there are few more deserving than Michele Timms OAM.