King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Olympics: Lisa Leslie is the big sister the U.S. men need. Plus: A gold and two bronzes for Michael Phelps? What a failure! And: Take your best shot.

By Salon Staff

Published August 17, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

The U.S. women's basketball team routed the Czech Republic Monday, cruising to an 80-61 win. The Americans had struggled early, falling behind 21-18 after the first quarter and trailing well into the second. They turned it around with a 14-0 run in the second quarter based on hustle and energy.

They pressed on defense and moved the ball and attacked the basket on offense. The Czechs simply wilted and the rest of the game was a formality. The U.S. now has two lopsided wins in two starts.

In a postgame interview, with very little prompting from NBC's Craig Sager, center Lisa Leslie used the example of the women's victory to rip into the underachieving American men.

"They have yet to adjust their game to play team basketball, they're still playing individually," she said of the boys. "If you get after it and have the heart and play with some passion, I think that's what the men were missing, just that passion and that fight. Have a little bit more pride about losing and wearing this USA uniform."

Sager asked Leslie what the men could learn from watching the women.

"Well, first of all they have to come and watch us," she said pointedly. "I think they should get out here and support us and see just how it is playing international basketball. I think they maybe right now could learn a little bit of something from us."

Play-by-play man Mike Breen quickly explained that the men were practicing at the moment of the U.S.-Czech women's game, but it was still a pretty stiff jab.

Leslie actually lectured the men for some time and even, in a fairly sophisticated pedagogic move, talked about the women when she was really talking about the men: "International basketball is a lot different style from the way we play in the U.S.," she said. "You have to move the ball around, not come out here as individuals the way we play on our WNBA teams, but just be a team. The ball will find the open player. Secondly, defense ..."

And so on.

A few minutes later veteran point guard Dawn Staley, who is both the head coach at Temple and an active player with the Charlotte Sting, was much kinder: "They'll make adjustments," she said. "They're going to be all right."

The men play the host Greeks Tuesday afternoon. The women play South Korea Wednesday.

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The golden boy gets bronzed [PERMALINK]

Who could have guessed that swimmer Michael Phelps, the most hyped American athlete coming into these Olympics, wouldn't live up to the hoopla? Gosh, I was sure he'd win those eight gold medals, because he was on all those magazine covers.

Even though anyone who knows anything about swimming said he wasn't fast enough to beat Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband, the titans of the short sprints, who won gold and silver.

Phelps swam the best 200-meter freestyle of his life, of any American's life, Monday, and won a bronze medal. So that's a gold and two bronzes so far, and Mark Spitz's record seven golds in 1972 is safe.

It's been safe all along, but that idea wouldn't have sold a lot of magazines.

Phelps is obviously a major talent, but he's only 19. However he ends up at these games, it's going to be fun to see what he can do in four years if he stays healthy and interested and comes back for more at 23. Thorpe is 21. Van den Hoogenband is 26. I don't want to say he's old but he swims entire races with his turn signal on.

Phelps has done a nice job of trying to deflect the hype with a not entirely convincing claim that his goal in Athens was one gold medal, not eight. But it's a strange world we live in where a 19-year-old kid with a gold and two bronzes seems like a failure.

That's the problem with the big hype, which NBC and others engaged in because they need American audiences to have American heroes to get interested in for the Games to pull in the big numbers: If the hypee doesn't live up to it, he seems kind of tarnished. Phelps has good instincts with this "I just wanted one" business, but he's waving a broom at the tide.

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Shoot 'em up [PERMALINK]

A few thoughts on watching the women's trap shooting final, won by Australian Suzanne Balogh.

Thought 1: One of the contestants was 53. I think any sport in which you can compete at 53 without it being a jaw-dropping thing -- in that way that 47-year-old tennis player Martina Navratilova just makes you shake your head in wonder -- shouldn't be in the Olympics.

Thought 2: Why is there men's and women's shooting? Is there some reason why men and women couldn't compete together in this event? Do the superior size and strength of men come into play somehow?

Thought 3: Trap shooting isn't the world's most exciting sport, but at least there are moving parts. In the air rifle and pistol shooting events, what you have is a person standing stock still, then imperceptibly moving one finger to squeeze a trigger, at which point a dot appears on a target. Compared to the other shooting events, trap shooting is like naked flaming supermodel olive oil wrestling. On motorcycles.

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Hench-items [PERMALINK]

  • I don't like field hockey. The sticks are too short. Why don't they have longer sticks? The player with the ball has to run hunched over. It hurts my back to watch it. I don't need that. I'm already sitting in front of my TV 70 hours a day.

  • When did synchronized diving become a marquee, prime-time sport, and why? What a dull thing, a minor-league version of diving. And yet it's been on the big show on NBC every night.

    I've always found synchronized swimming to be kind of silly, an Esther Williams movie with judges, but at least it can be argued that what the participants are doing requires a unique, athletic skill. Synchronized divers are doing the same thing regular divers do, only they're doing it in pairs, and they're not doing it as well as the regular divers do it.

    I've spent a good deal of the last two decades complaining about U.S. Olympics TV coverage not showing enough events, but here's a classic case of be careful what you wish for. I don't remember synchronized diving even existing in past Olympics (it did), but now that NBC and its hench-networks are dutifully showing more events this time than ever before, we're lousy with synchronized diving. The Greek men winning the gold was a nice moment, though.

  • Oh and by the way, in all types of diving, do you find yourself as annoyed as I do by the athletes' bizarre obsession with those little chamois towels? They rub themselves down with them before they jump, squeeze water out of them all over themselves and just generally fondle them. I don't know why this bugs me so much, but it does.

  • Here's Jimmy Roberts, taking the toss from Bob Costas for a "Big Detroit Automaker Olympic Moment" about a swimmer whose career had gone off-track at what point:

    "Bob, Natalie Coughlin turns 22 next Monday, which is really only significant because, if you know anything about her, you'd have sworn she's an Aquarius."

    Even though Coughlin, who would soon win gold in the 100-meter backstroke, is my homegirl, a sturdy Golden Bear, I can't tell you what the rest of the BDAOC was all about because I shot my TV.

    Previous column: Men's hoops, more

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