Did you know that Mormon missionaries played a role in the history of Australian basketball?
It’s true. An article from Mormonnewsroom.org tells the story. The LDS Church’s Australian website published a similar article. A group of American missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint called themselves the “Mormon Yankees.” They were asked to play practice and exhibition games with various Olympic teams in the weeks leading up the official games held in Melbourne, Australia, in 1956.
These missionaries were serving in the Victoria District of South Australia LDS mission. This team of missionaries, many of whom went on to play college basketball following their missions, played the Russians, Chinese (Taiwanese), Chileans, French, United States and Australian Olympic teams. They defeated all but the Americans and the Russians, who eventually won the gold and silver medals.
The team’s true focus was missionary work. During games, literature was distributed which resulted in great and favorable publicity for the church. Any money that was generated was given to the building fund of local LDS branches in Melbourne. These missionaries were also good examples for many Australian youth.
This Youtube video tells more about these athletic missionaries.
Here is another video that focuses more on how the missionaries contributed to the birth of basketball in Australia.
One of the team members, Eldon Huntsman, talks about his experience as a Mormon Yankee in this video.
On a somewhat related note, this Youtube video shares who two LDS missionaries coached two men’s and women’s teams from Thursday Island, located between Papua New Guinea and Australia, in a 1961 Australian basketball tournament.