Saturday, September 30|
Dream is lost for U.S. men's hoops
By Mike Littwin
Scripps Howard News Service
SYDNEY, Australia -- By now, we're used to ugly American stories.
What we're not used to is ugly-Americans-playing-ugly-basketball
Welcome to the Dream Team world, where all things are possible.
What else can you say when France -- France? -- is four points down
with four minutes to play for the gold medal. Booing the Dream Team
for behavior is one thing.
But for poor play?
After the Dreamers nearly lost to Lithuania in the previous game,
Jason Kidd had said, "About 12 guys would have to change their
identities. We'd all have to move as far away as possible. New Zealand
would be my pick."
You could lose to France in many things. In cheese. In joie de
vivre. In Jerry Lewis symposiums. But if you lost to France in
basketball -- and maybe you'd watch, just on the odd chance -- New
Zealand wouldn't be far enough away.
This was supposed to be anticlimax.
That's the new problem with the Dreamers. There's no climax. And
there's no anticlimax.
There's just an 85-75 win and a not-very-satisfying gold medal, as
I wonder which way you'd root if you watched. You want to put an
end to jingoism? You want to work out just what it means about pride
going before a fall? Bring on the Dream Team or, as one writer called
them, the Preen Team.
Even NBA commissioner David Stern admitted, although not directly,
there might be a problem here.
He said the players were reacting to the fact that they're under
tremendous pressure not to lose -- while everyone else seems to want
them to. "A lot of it," he said, "is a way for them to keep each
other pumped up. We'll deal with some of the niceties later. That's a
This is supposed to be the NBA's stage. They come to the Olympics
to amuse us and to teach the world how to play the game. If they sell
the odd Vince Carter jersey, that's OK, too.
It's one thing for dynasties to fall if they're the old Cuban
baseball team. But not the Dreamers.
The problem with the post-Magic-Michael-Bird era is that it's hard
to figure how the Dreamers can win. If they win too big, they're
bullies playing boring games while embarrassing their opposition. If
they don't win big enough, they're playing uninterested basketball,
So, how do they win?
"Increasingly, it's becoming a no-win situation," Stern said
before the France game.
He tried to make the point that the rest of the world is catching
up. It must have been on hyperspeed. Do we really think France plays
NBA quality basketball? They don't even have skyboxes there.
What we have here, though, is Vince Carter trashing-talking and
posing after each slam. They also got to see him raising the No. 1
finger after nearly losing to Lithuania, which plays on the level of a
good CBA team.
Isn't Carter supposed to be the next Michael Jordan? Do you see
Jordan posing after nearly losing to the Clippers. (Bad example. I'm
guessing Jordan never came close to losing to the Clippers.) Lithuania
was one last-second three-point shot short of sending the Dreamers to
the bronze-medal game.
When Stern watched the Lithuania game on tape -- and the shot that
didn't go in -- he thought he was seeing the future when the world
eventually catches up.
"I'd just like it to happen down the road when I'm watching from
my retirement community," he said.
Win or lose, the Dream Team has lost. It's too bad for the classy
guys on the team. It isn't only Marion Jones who has to worry about
guilt by association.
I don't care if these guys stay in luxury hotel rooms, but let them
play a million-dollar game. Isn't that why they're here?
It isn't to hear Vince Carter say, "We didn't lose. I don't care
what the world thinks. Look at the scoreboard."
Here's the truth. It was after an early-round close game with
Lithuania that a former University of Maryland player, Sarunas
Jasikevicius, had said, "I think they're going to lose a game here.
They're treating this like a vacation."
Yeah, and they're playing like Chevy Chase.
But lose? And wombats will fly. Wait, maybe wombats do fly.
OK, you can make your excuses, about which Americans aren't here.
No Shaq. No Grant Hill. No Kobe Bryant. No Tim Duncan. But, let's face
it, any NBA team would win here easily.
The players are mystified, which I find amusing. They expect the
opposing players to ask for their autographs, which, by the way, most
are willing to sell on eBay.
After this tournament, though, they might not bring in quite as
Mike Littwin is a writer for the Denver Rocky Mountain News
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