The Tournament of the Americas placed the world on notice: CUJO is back. And he is hungry for gold (and, perhaps, Mr. Michael Vick.) I’m reasonably certain that the divisions of FIBA (Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania) watched with glee and cups of Earl Grey as USA Basketball executed ‘Shock and Awe’ a the Thomas and Mack Arena.
These games, indeed, represented the worst possible denouement for USA Basketball. The domination will allow those associated with our sport to take a deep breath and exhale, thinking: How do you spell domination: USA Basketball.
Forgive me for sounding like Dave Chappelle’s ‘Negrodamus,’ but I remain nervous and worried. Not because of Messrs. Krzyzewski, Kidd, Bryant and Colangelo-- but, instead for what I know about International Basketball’s elite. These are wily, clandestine operatives who are, as we speak, devising a protocol to uncover the ‘Achilles Heel’ of USA Basketball. To wit:
1.) We are, as a nation, possessors of Short Memories.
2.) Team USA’s core will not practice together again until just before Beijing.
3.) Jason Kidd’s knees will age one year for every 33 games he’ll play this season.
4.) The 2007 performance notwithstanding-- the only Olympic qualifiers afraid of Team USA are in the ‘just glad to get an invitation’ category.
The medal round--like March Madness-- is an asphyxiating ‘one and done.’ That means the most talented team doesn’t necessarily win. The best team ‘on that day’ wins. Team USA, just three scant years ago, caught an inferior Greek team (from a talent perspective) on a night when that team ‘made it rain.’ In a best-of-seven series, Team USA beat the Grecians 4-to-2. But, there is no best-of-seven cushion in the Medal round...it is the full-on expression of ‘all we have is right now.’ Italy and Spain are for real-- and, Argentina without Ginobli and Nocioni (as they were in this tournament) are like a rum cake sans the rum.
A rotating collapsing defense preventing dribble penetration and dunks-- combined with a ‘hard-deny, no catch’ tactics on Michael Redd-- followed with concomitant shot-making -- and, guess what: Team USA is in a close game.
Now, what do we know about basketball? IT IS A GAME OF HABITS. Moreover, all players revert to dominant habits in moments of anxiety. A two possession quarterfinal game--down by five with 0:44 remaining-- defines anxious.
And, there is another variable: Officiating. In the eyes of the men and women who call the Olympics, the NBA is to basketball, what “Ice Road Truckers’ is to “Ice Skating.” (There is a layer of ice beneath you, and that’s where the similarities end.)
Team USA’s Bronze medal in 2004 was -- to me at least- a source of pride. I am amazed at how often that accomplishment is derided and scorned. Team USA fought and competed for that Bronze medal. It meant something.
Now is the time for USA basketball to work harder-- to be earnest in their committment to not ‘let-up.’ The Achilles Heel is ‘HUBRIS,’ with equal parts comfort. Fans, coaches and and player should spend the next 12 months studying the nuances of the International game and understanding how well the Big Four (Italy, Spain, Argentina and Lithuania) make plays when it matters.
No squad will will lay down for Team USA. I am concerned that we’re being hoodwinked and aren’t wily enough to know it. The rest of the world will say: “We may as well concede the gold to the Americans...they are unbeatable,” or, “Let’s face it, we’re all playing for second place.” Note to USA Basketball: “When you hear such cries from the rest of the world, DON'T BELIEVE IT. It’s a setup.
The gold medal is an accomplishment to be earned, not the divine right of USA Basketball. Let’s rally around USA basketball now-- and prepare ourselves -- as a country-- to win the gold. It’ll be sweeter.