Monday, August 16, 2004

Historic Basketball Loss

I know this isn’t a maverick take…..but Team USA’s loss to Puerto Rico in the preliminary round of the Olympic Men’s Basketball tournament is downright embarrassing.

Think about the historical nature of this loss. In Olympic history…the United States have only lost TWICE in men’s hoops action. The first one is the disputed and controversial gold medal game of 1972...where the Soviets had 3 chances to make a last second shot. Those silver medals still sit in a vault in Sweden. The other loss was in 1988 to the Soviet Union in the semifinals….leaving the USA to have to win their next game to claim the bronze. Because of that game…the NBA players were allowed to play for their country. Before this loss yesterday, the closest the USA with NBA players had ever gotten to losing an Olympic Game was in Sydney in 2000 when a last second heave by Lithuania almost ended the American’s reign in hoops. In 2002, in the World Championships, USA teams with NBA players lost THREE times….in Indianapolis!!!!

Then last night, they lost by 19. To Puerto Rico. And the USA were never in that game. Never.

I think most in the basketball community….and just fans…could accept this loss a little better if it was to Serbia or Russia or Spain or Argentina. Not Puerto Rico. No offense to Puerto Rico….but they’ve been the 2nd best team in North America over the past 20 years an no one knows it because they lagged waaaaaaay behind America for #1. And in every tune-up or CONCAF game, the USA ends up slaughtering the Puerto Ricans in the Finals or what-not. But in the same tone…if some small little country was going to pull of this upset….why not Puerto Rico? It is certainly better than Italy. They are considered the “51st State”….and US Olympian Carmelo Anthony was eligible to play for that team since his dad is a citizen.

Now, I’m not the “ugly American” and only root for us if we’re going to win. Not true. I am one of those people that believe that the players around the World are getting much, much better and their teams are constructed much better. Back in the day, these foreign teams were much too robotic and un-athletic that we could just run around, over and thru them to score. Their big men rather shoot jumpers that bang on the inside against Ewing, Robinson, Malone, Shaq, Barkley, etc. Now it is different. They’ve adjusted and improved on their games. It isn’t so much as we have to play the worst game ever in order to lose. Sure, we gotta play bad…..but these guys can BEAT us.

ESPN has made the big declaration that this USA team is “flawed”. Well….duh. There really is no true point guard out there. Yeah, Marbury and Wade play the point for their teams….but they are mostly scoring guards whose main purpose isn’t to distribute. Also, this team, unlike past Olympic years, is pretty small. Only Duncan is the true big man out there. Plus, as is evidenced by the 3-for-24 shooting from behind the arc….and the 35% overall shooting….we can’t shoot. Heck, they missed SIXTEEN 3’s in a row at one point. And, do ya think that the rest of the world is gonna zone out Duncan and let everyone gun for the next week or two????

I won’t put the blame of this loss on any one player….but I will say that Richard Jefferson doesn’t belong out there. I’ve watched quite a bit of this team play so far….and Jefferson shoots, and misses, a lot of 3’s. Two of his shots hit the side of the backboard. Tim Duncan is doing all he can….but he’s the only big man out there and everyone is sagging in on him. USA did dominate on the boards….but that means nothing if you can’t put the ball in the hoop.

And for the roster….have no one but USA Basketball and the NBA to blame. I made a Journal Entry a little bit ago blasting the fact that they get this team together in mid-July to be ready for mid-August. That’s insane. Sure, the NBA postseason barely allows time for the team to get together quicker. Well, then just take players off of teams that seasons ended by the 1st round of the NBA playoffs…and maybe add a few of the great players that advance [like Duncan] later to the practice. Iverson and LeBron’s seasons ended in April. Carmelo’s ended a week later. Get more NBA teammates on the USA team. Guys that have played together before.

How about getting more veteran players?? Think about it….Wade, Anthony and James were all rookies last year. Boozer just finished his 2nd season. Jefferson, Okafur hasn’t played an NBA game yet. Allen Iverson is the oldest vet….and is just an 8-year vet [if you don‘t count his “professional career“ at G‘town]. And he had the best quote about the Puerto Rican team, “They play the game like it is supposed to be played. It‘s good for the kids to see how the game is supposed to be played”. Wow. So what are the kids watching during the 4 years between Olympics?? Your selfish play.

But, that’s all for the future. This is our 2004 Olympic Team. And there are no more “wake-up calls” and “angering the beast” takes….because it is VERY obvious that this team cannot turn it on and decide that it will win.

This is a tournament, boys.


aeneashunter said...

Let me suggest an alternative conclusion: We should just accept the fact that the Olympics are irrelevant to American basketball.  We have the NBA and the NCAA tournament.  That's where we crown our champions.  The Olympics are a nuisance that come up every four years.

The last couple decades have done a good job of proving that big-time team sports and the Olympics do not mix.  If someone is being paid tens of millions of dollars to play for a team, is it surprising that the player does not place a high premium on the Olympics?  For someone like Iverson, the Olympics are a lose-lose proposition.  If the team wins, everyone yawns.  If the team loses, the players are lazy, unskilled bums.

This problem is not unique to American basketball.  The biggest sport in the world is soccer.  Take a look at the Olympic soccer tournament, and you will find the same issues, the same debate, and the same result.  Here are some of the countries that did not even QUALIFY for the Olympics in soccer: Brazil, England, France, and Spain.  Instead, the field includes Mali and Ghana.

In the global context, this ought to be a bigger shock than the United States having a poor basketball tournament.  But it isn't.  Why not?  Because the international soccer community has the wisdom to view the Olympics as an unimportant sideshow.

American basketball should develop that wisdom.

sportzassassin said...

I agree with your comments to a certain extent.  

Yeah, in the realm of sports, it is painfully obvious that sports like basketball, soccer and baseball are meaningless to the top athletes in those sports.  Olympic soccer is a joke.  Heck, even Olympic tennis doesn't draw that well.  And this isn't just the Olympics.  The Davis Cup in tennis has a hard time getting guys to compete.  The World Basketball Championships were very lightly attended.  

The lone exception seems to be the Ryder Cup...which is an event that happens every TWO years.  This is an event that the millionaires actually care about competing in....and that is what makes it one of the elite non-Olympic battles between the US and the world.  

But, the Olympics are still relevent to the hoops community.  I just think that the attitude behind USA Basketball needs to change.  Don't just invite the best 12 guys....then the next 10 guys because 10 of the top 12 don't want to do it.  Build a team.  Get a few guys that can shoot out there.  I know Anthony Peeler isn't a household name....but he led the NBA in 3-point shooting last year.  Put more teammates on the team.  I think the only ones there are Marion and Stoudamire.  This isn't an American-All Star is an Olympic team.  So pick the team a little more carefully.

aeneashunter said...

Ah, but golf isn't a team sport, except for the Ryder cup (and a few minor competitions that no one cares about).  That's what makes the Ryder cup a special event.

If we want to build a serious national basketball team, we can look to soccer to see how it is done.  National soccer teams play a number of "friendly" matches over the course of the year.  FIFA sets aside certain weeks during the season to allow players to join their national teams for those matches.

We would need to do something like that, but it wouldn't work well with the packed NBA season.  And even then you'd run into the fundamental problem that playing for the national team is a lose-lose option for superstars.