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Athens 2004

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Commentary & Perspective

Monday, August 16

Americans have forgotten how to play as a team

ATHENS, Greece Good.

No, check that.

Great.

What happened here Sunday night, the (cough, gag) Dream Team getting run off the floor by a bunch of nobodies from Puerto Rico, was as sweet a victory for real basketball, for beautiful basketball, as you could possibly imagine.

Is that unpatriotic?

Is that wrong?

Sorry, but if you love what basketball is supposed to be, and you just witnessed the utter ineptitude the U.S. team displayed here, you were a little bit happy those mopes went down in flames, too. The Americans, arrogant and dismissive and over-reliant on athleticism, had this coming for a long time.

"I'm angry," U.S. coach Larry Brown said as he tried to explain away the inexplicable. "And that's not to take anything away from what that (Puerto Rican) team accomplished. I'm angry because the mentality of our team was like that from Day One. And now we've got to find if we're really ready to become a team."

So, can Brown teach these guys how to shoot a jump shot in the next few days? And while we're asking the question, would it have been too much trouble to ask Milwaukee sharpshooter Michael Redd to join this team?

This is what Pacers President Larry Bird warned against a week before the games. Somebody would play that soft zone, the United States would have a 3-for-24 shooting night on 3s and international hoops history would be made.

"I shot two shots that went off the side of the glass, and that's never happened to me in my life," Richard Jefferson said. "If you watch the NBA, you know an Allen Iverson is going to hit his shots. I'm going to hit my shots. A Stephon Marbury is going to hit his shots.

"This was just the worst-case scenario."

Actually, it was more than that, more than just "it-was-one-of-those-nights," more than an indictment of this particular team. It was a rousing indictment of American basketball, which has lost its world stature with astonishing speed.

Remember, the Americans came within seconds of losing to Lithuania in Sydney. Then they lost three games at the World Basketball Championships in Indianapolis. And they started their exhibition play with this group by losing badly to Italy and barely defeating Germany on a buzzer-beater.

The truth is, we have forgotten the right way to play. We have forgotten what the team game is all about. The Detroit Pistons, sadly, are the exception, and not the rule.

"I'm humiliated, not for the loss, I can always deal with wins and losses," Brown said. "But I'm disappointed because I had a job to do as a coach, to get us to understand how we're supposed to play as a team and act as a team, and I don't think we did that."

Now don't fall prey to the excuse that the Americans can't get it done any longer because they throw guys together at the last second, and the other teams practice together for years. These are NBA stars. Maybe not the first-tier NBA stars, a Shaq, a Kobe, a Kevin Garnett, who were among the 12 NBA invitees who opted out for a variety of reasons, but they're all multimillionaires with an established pedigree.

Brown needs to do more now than find somebody who can hit a shot. He needs to appeal to their pride and make them care about what they've done to their country's once-proud hoops heritage.

They got worked by Puerto Rico. Not Argentina. Not Serbia-Montenegro. Not Spain.

Puerto Rico.

"We're a small island with a big heart," guard Elias Ayuso said.

This was the kind of night when you pined for the return of college players. At least the college kids would act like they cared. At least the college kids would have given U.S. fans a reason to be proud.

As the final seconds of America's worst basketball moment unfolded, Tim Duncan put his hands to the sides of his face and squeezed, hoping to wring out some of the despair. Lamar Odom draped a towel over his head, trying to hide a bit of the shame. Their Dream Team and for now on, the appellation is retired was getting disgraced, blown away by a team with just one player, Carlos Arroyo, who is an NBA starter.

The greatest streak in Olympic history didn't end because of a single strange play, or a bad call, or a fluke shooting performance by some team that didn't deserve space on the same floor. The greatest Olympic streak ended with a thunderous clank, the Americans not only looking terrible, but looking downright foolish.

The giant has been slain.

Great.

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COMMENTARY AND PERSPECTIVE

CHRISTINE BRENNAN | USA TODAY

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, mens hoops team prove that defeat is relative

MIKE LOPRESTI | Gannett News Service

U.S. basketball supremacy is ancient history

GNS MULTIMEDIA

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