Athens 2004

Commentary & Perspective

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Sunday, August 15

U.S. basketball supremacy is ancient history

ATHENS, Greece — This is a city of ruins and myths. The Acropolis. Hercules. American dominance in basketball. All parts of yesterday.

Today, the United States men's basketball team is 0-1 in the Olympics. Cannon fodder for the Puerto Rico history books. And as the last seconds ticked away Sunday, surely no one felt the urge to stand up and cry, "Do you believe in miracles?"

Because this wasn't one. Just the best team winning. By 19 points.

It's not fair to call Puerto Rico giant killers, because there are no giants here to kill. Certainly nobody to fear. Not anymore.

"The fact is, we have good players, too. We're not intimidated," mentioned guard Carlos Arroyo, the maestro of the game with 24 points.

"We were saying in the locker room that we were going to be in all the newspapers in the world."

Behold the legacy of the NBA. Of the AAU system. Of all the places that produce star mentalities but not teammates, that value highlight reels over fundamentals.

The U.S. team, I am pretty sure, knows how to dunk. It also had had 22 turnovers, shot 35 percent, went 3 for 24 in three-pointers and was shredded on defense.

"I think these guys play the game the way the game is supposed to be played," Allen Iverson was saying of Puerto Rico. "They don't play off a lot of their athletic ability. They think the game out.

"I think this game was good for kids to see, how the game is supposed to be played."

A curious idea, don't you think? That the nation which invented basketball must advise its children to learn the game from guys from San Juan and Rio Piedras.

Or this one. "I think we came out flat," said guard Dwayne Wade. "It happens."

At the Olympics?

To be sure, the U.S. players are talented and gifted. And one cannot fault their commitment in being here, while so many of their colleagues fled out any door.

But they seem almost a victim of their basketball culture, even as Larry Brown grows desperate trying to convince them they must play another way, transforming themselves from individual NBA players. "I felt right from the beginning, just watching body language, we had a lot of guys with that issue," he said.

"We've got to find out if we're ready to become a team."

Puerto Rico already knows. Even though only three of its players have had NBA time.

Before the game, Brown said he had one message for his players. "You've got to throw the egos out the window."

So what's Plan B?

One would think that accomplished, millionaire professionals — even young ones — would understand something about the nuances of basketball and the usefulness of teamwork. And you'd think a few of them could even shoot.

Sunday was not just a loss. It was an indictment of the system that helped produce it.

At the end, there was Arroyo, flashing the front of his uniform the crowds and the cameras, showing off the words "Puerto Rico," glaring at Wade as he did.

"I knew there were a lot of people watching back home. This meant a lot to them," he said. "I know it looked kind of cocky. I'm sorry about that."

Not to worry. Maybe U.S. basketball should think a little more about the name on the front of the uniform, and a little less about the name on the back.

"Step one is understanding it's not over," Iverson said. "It could be a happy ending."

True. But for the moment, if you want to have your picture taken with ruins in Greece, you can pose next to the Parthenon. Or most American jump shots.



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Phelps' big win: Taking the challenge

BOB KRAVITZ | The Indianapolis Star

Americans have forgotten how to play as a team

DAN BICKLEY | The Arizona Republic

Bade guns for gold, but comes up short

IAN O'CONNOR | The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

Phelps, men’s hoops team prove that defeat is relative

MIKE LOPRESTI | Gannett News Service

U.S. basketball supremacy is ancient history


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