Oh good. We still get to talk about the 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers, only in their reincarnated form, the U.S. men's basketball team.
The Dreamers had their hats handed to them by Puerto Rico Sunday, as you surely know, a 92-73 kneecapping that was every bit as lopsided as that score sounds. The Americans missed more outside shots than a teetotaler at a biker picnic. They were down by 22 at the half, and though they closed to single digits in the fourth quarter, they did so without looking even remotely like they might win.
All of this against Puerto Rico, a small island country that is not, technically speaking, a country. The Americans have gone from being gold-medal locks to being a team that gets routed by a commonwealth. What's next, losing to Delaware?
Except it's hard to write the U.S. off because of all that talent. The construction of the roster is all wrong and the men don't seem to know how to play together as a team, but they've got the best players. Sound familiar?
We've all heard about how outside shooting and team defense are the keys in international play, and the U.S. team is uniquely suited to stink at both, as it did Sunday, leading NBC commentator Doug Collins, the star of the 1972 U.S. team, to whine incessantly in a manner that would have been funny if it hadn't been so tiresome.
I'm not going to pretend to know enough about international play to know whether the talent of Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson and Co. is enough to overcome that disadvantage. But it wouldn't surprise me if it is. The U.S. responded to its last humiliation, in its first pre-Olympics exhibition, with a winning streak, though most of those wins were less than impressive.
It also wouldn't surprise me if the Americans don't win a medal.
It's a well-known story by now that when the balanced roster of stars that coach Larry Brown invited to be the U.S. team mostly begged off, USA Basketball put together the most marketable team it could, rather than the one most likely to win international basketball games.
I understand all the ways that LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade are better for business missing 20-footers than Brent Barry and Michael Finley and Fred Hoiberg are making them. But I'm just wondering: Did anyone ask Reggie Miller what he was doing this month?
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Opening ceremonies [PERMALINK]
I wonder what the Olympic Opening Ceremonies will look like in 40 years. Will the fashion for such spectacle entertainment change or will such events still be the same ponderous, humorless affairs we're stuck with today, the same drama club-meets-modern art lite, people painted silver and pretending to run in slow motion while suspended by wires kind of deal?
Friday's "tribute" to Greek mythology, Olympic history, mankind and Western civilization was like a "Spinal Tap" for halftime shows. My favorite part was the shout-out to DNA. All right, DNA!
The Parade of Nations -- nothing more than all the athletes marching into the stadium -- is so dramatic and powerful and wonderful that the entertainment portion of the program is just a time-waster, but we're stuck with it forever. I wonder why such a joyous occasion has to be marked in such a dull way, though.
I mean, there was some neat stuff. You suspend people or things from wires in a stadium, it looks bad-ass. And it's always nice to have Björk around. (Note to Bob Costas and Katie Couric: Shut up when Björk, or anyone else for that matter, is singing.)
But come on: "The Cycladic head breaks away to show more realistic statues representing the dawn of individuality," Couric explained, because someone had to. "As they fall to the water, they represent the 2,000 Greek islands." Give me a break.
The guy balancing on a suspended cube, Costas told us, was "meant to symbolize man's evolution into a logical being in search of knowledge." Looked to me like he was meant to symbolize a guy looking for a place to stand.
Listen, I like bad art and ham-handed symbolism and kettle drums as much as the next guy, but where is it written that it has to be like this? Why is there only one acceptable aesthetic for such events? Before I die, I'd like to see some clowns in the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Some funny clowns.
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After a made free throw gave the S&Ms an 82-81 lead with 3.8 seconds to go, Alejandro Montecchia took the inbounds pass and drove to the front court. With a little over a second left, he fired a pass to Manu Ginobili, Argentina's star and a member of the San Antonio Spurs, who was running toward the basket on the right side of the lane.
It looked in that split second like Montecchia should have gone up for the long 3-pointer, that Ginobili wouldn't have time to catch and shoot, but Ginobili made an athletic play, catching the pass with 0.5 seconds to go and launching an off-balance runner before the buzzer. Off the backboard and in as Ginobili tumbled out of bounds. What a play.
Argentine coach Ruben Magnano sprinting around the court in celebration looked like Jim Valvano doing the same thing after North Carolina State won the NCAA Championship Game 21 years ago. This game didn't have those stakes, with both teams likely to advance anyway, but it did have a big-time feel, like an NBA playoff game.
My favorite part of it, the part I want every NCAA and NBA coach to stop madly scribbling on their white boards for a minute and listen to, was when Ginobili was asked what the plan was for that final play. "We had no plan," he said. "Just do whatever."
But at least there's a butt in Lampley's chair, unlike most of the chairs at the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee is reportedly telling Athens officials to start giving away tickets so broadcasts will no longer be dominated by oceans of empty seats. During the women's gymnastics Sunday night, it appeared the upper level was full and the lower bowl was empty except for press and VIPs. Clearly the lower-bowl seats were priced too high but, hello, once the TV cameras start rolling, let those people move down.
And the coverage has been refreshingly no-frills, with intrusive graphics and sound effects and crazy camera angles not a problem at all.
Even better than that has been the restraint NBC has shown with the big sappy features. There have been a few, but even those have been mercifully short and the bathos has been reined in considerably. Appearances of the godawful schlockmeister Jimmy Roberts and his shoot-your-TV "Big Detroit Automaker Olympic Moments" have been delightfully rare.
Previous column: Iraq's soccer upset
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