I’ve watched thousands of basketball games. And I’ll watch thousands more. Some of the games I’ve watched have been more memorable than others. I’ll never forget Team USA’s 92-73 loss to Puerto Rico four years ago. Puerto Rico packed the paint against the United States in that contest and dared Team USA to fire away from outside. The United States responded by shooting 3-of-24 from 3-point line. I’m not prone to emotional outbursts while watching basketball, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I was screaming at the television during that game. I remember Puerto Rican guard Carlos Arroyo ‘popping’ his jersey at Team USA — his team up 20. I’m still frustrated and disappointed about that loss.
Frustrated because the team we sent to Athens wasn’t comprised of the best our country had to offer. Disappointed because Larry Brown made himself larger than the team he was hand picked to coach. Team USA couldn’t hit from long-distance because their best shooter was sitting on the bench. Through six prior exhibition games, Carmelo Anthony was the 2004 team’s third leading scorer (behind Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson). But when Olympic play began, Brown chose to play Richard Jefferson (who had two of his shot attempts hit the side of the backboard against Puerto Rico) and Shawn Marion at small forward. Brown started Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury in the backcourt. Iverson and Marbury were incapable of creating for their teammates — while LeBron James — Team USA’s best playmaker, rode the pine next to Carmelo.
Granted, James and Anthony were wet behind the ears rookies in 2004. Even still, they were twice the players that Richard Jefferson, Shawn Marion, Allen Iverson, and Stephon Marbury were. Why did Brown ignore the obvious and play lesser players? Brown shortened his bench because of his well-publicized disdain for young players. And he didn’t stop there, he also took every opportunity to berate his players in the media and criticize the player selection committee.
Mark Kriegel of Foxsports.com wrote an article recently that questioned the importance of winning gold in this summer’s Olympics. Kriegel asked Kobe Bryant, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony if winning the gold medal would mean more than an NBA championship. All of the players agreed that they’d choose a gold medal over an NBA championship. Kriegel didn’t “buy it.”
Kriegel even admitted to taking “perverse satisfaction in the declining fortunes of Team USA.” He’s not alone. Anti-American basketball sentiment has permeated message boards and NBA related blogs and articles for quite some time. I know there are a few bad apples in today’s game that feed the arrogant, selfish, stereotype of American born basketball players. The 2000 and 2004 Olympic teams did little to disprove that perception. The 2004 team, in particular, displayed terrible body language, attitude, and sportsmanship.
That’s why the 2008 games are so important. Basketball may be the world’s game, but it’s important that the United States prove that we play it better than anybody. And that we play it the right way. With humility and respect for our opponents. In Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Team USA sports the two greatest players in the world. In Coach Krzyzewski, we have one of the finest coaches in all of basketball. There’s no excuses this time around.
I’ve never played in the NBA or the Olympics and I never will. But I’m as big a fan of the game of basketball as anyone. I’ve watched my favorite NBA team win championships, lose in the Finals, miss the playoffs, rebuild, and return to the Finals only to lose again. I’ve dealt with the highs and lows that have accompanied each of those moments. But if given the opportunity, I’d trade every NBA championship of the past and every NBA championship of the future for a gold medal in Beijing.