Rachael was just 9 years old when she became a member of the Murrayville Basketball Club in her hometown in country Victoria. It didn’t take long for the legend of Rachael Sporn to be born.
Playing at the elite level for 19 years Rachael took to the court for 304 games as a member of the Australian Women’s Basketball Team, the Opals; she played in three world championship teams and then made three Olympic appearances, picking up a Bronze medal in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics, and Silver in Sydney in 2000 and again in Athens in 2004.
She played 377 games in the Women’s National Basketball League, playing for and captaining Adelaide Quit Lightning, winning five WNBL Championships, twice winning the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player award and is still the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in that League. She still holds the record – 27 - for the most rebounds in a game.
She was drafted to the U.S. Women’s National Basketball Association to play for the Detroit Shock for the 1998, 1999 and 2001 seasons and played 71 games.
Rachael graduated from the University of South Australia with a Bachelor of Education in Secondary Physical Education and Mathematics.
She was a country Victorian through and through but Adelaide was only three hours’ drive from her home and it was six hours to Melbourne so she joined UniSA’s Underdale campus to study while she took her first tentative steps into the professional world of basketball having been scouted to play for West Adelaide.
‘Juggling basketball and my studies was a lot easier than if I’d had a full-time job to deal with,’ she says. ‘I was able to take on extra training sessions because of university.’
Any Olympic dreams she might have harboured growing up were based on track and field. Her hero was Raelene Boyle who sprinted to glory winning three silver Olympic medals in the Mexico City and Munich Games plus a clutch of Commonwealth Games golds and silvers until 1982.
But, at University Rachael was totally focused on a future career teaching PE and maths, until basketball took over.
Her Olympic dreams did come true although they took time and huge effort. Joining her first Olympic team, the Opals, to prepare for the Barcelona Games in 1992, the team failed to qualify and Rachael’s dream was put on hold. She was 28 when, as part of the Opals team at the Atlanta Games in 1996, she helped the team score their Olympic Bronze medal. The team won again at the Sydney Olympics, this time beaten into Silver medal status by the ever-victorious American team. The Opals won silver again at the Athens games which was Rachael’s last Olympics as an athlete, although commentary jobs at Olympics since then have become part of her post-basketball playing career.
Rachael has seen lots of positive changes in women’s sport in Australia since her playing days particularly now that players have sponsorships and are not forced to run raffles and cake stalls to make money. The game also gets much better media attention. She is a great basketball commentator who passes on her intensive knowledge of the game to her audience and knows exactly the types of questions that get the best answers from players because she has faced so many questions about basketball herself.
Besides commentary, Rachael is now closely involved with the Australian Melanoma Research Foundation. As the Development Executive it is Rachael’s role to organise fundraisers, develop partnerships with sporting organisations and talk constantly about the dangers of the sun to schoolchildren. Her grandmother died of the disease in 2008.
Rachael was awarded an Order of Australia medal in the 2015 Australia Day Honours for her services both to basketball and to the community. She has twice been inducted into the South Australian Sporting Hall of Fame, first as a team member of the Adelaide Lightning and then as an individual. She was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
She is currently the only Adelaide Lightning Player to have her number (14) retired by the team.
She herself retired 11 years ago but is still passionate about basketball. She doesn’t miss the training but still gets an adrenalin rush from playing which she does by turning out for Masters Games. She coaches and is very involved in her young daughter’s basketball league, and she credits her academic background for her success in all of it, particularly PE teaching, for her ability to organise and to lead.
‘I still do individual coaching,’ she says. ‘My own one-on-one training was very late and I had developed some bad habits. When I see the potential of kids now I want to pass on everything I’ve ever learned.’