Monday, August 25, 2008

The Golden Army

I suppose if you're going to stay up until five in the morning watching a basketball game, the least it can do to reward you is be entertaining, and thank the hardwood gods, the United States' 118-107 win over Spain was worth drifting in and out of consciousness until 2:30am.

Just like they dodged Manu Ginobli and a fully healthy Andres Nocioni in the semifinals, Spanish point guard Jose Calderon was unable to go, opening things up for the endlessly entertaining Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez show in the backcourt. I cannot wait for Rubio to come to the NBA, because I want to be able to hate him all year round, just not every Olympiad. Navarro's runner will be burned into the mind of everyone who watched that game, and Fernandez? Let's just say that if Rudy's skillset translates from playing NBA players in FIBA competition to playing NBA players in NBA competition (which doesn't seem particularly difficult, but who knows), the Trailblazers are going to be very, very happy. Few people can drain fallaway threes and dunk on Dwight Howard, but Rudy did both, the cursed referees denying him the maximum amount of minutes on the floor.

The Gasol brothers were also a joy, with Pau's post moves balanced out by Marc's ability to shove you to the ground or do whatever else necessary to clear the lame. Just when Chris Bosh was thinking "Goodness, man, why don't you shave," there were two forearms into the back of his head and an open shot for the Spanish. Granted, Spain got so many easy shots for their bigs because the U.S. insisted on switching every single screen, no matter how far from the basket they happened to be occurring, but they still made the most of it. I'm unsure what percentage of their 107 points came from having poor Deron Williams trying to guard a man a foot taller than him, but it certainly contributed to keeping the Spanish in the game.

In regards to getting Spain out of the game, it was the U.S. getting lucky when Kobe went into Finisher mode. He starts taking dumb shots – or just barely getting passes away on contested shots – and when things go well, he's on SportsCenter and people think it relevant to bring up the Jordan argument again. When they don't – and that happens - I'm not sure there's a more frustrating position to be in as a sports fan. But for the benefit of the Redeem Team, things went well, the early foul trouble was overcome and gold was theirs.

This past fortnight of hoops has been a joy to watch, just to see how these players work outside of their normal system and on a constant, yet competitive, All-Star team. LeBron James is still a monster, although the occasional LBJ Sour Face (which creeped onto his visage a few times late Saturday night) and temptation of the three-point line leave him a few steps from perfection. Dwyane Wade, when healthy, still has the potential to be the best player on the floor, an absolute dynamo. Dwight Howard still doesn't have any post moves beyond "turn around and dunk." Bosh is a polished gem kept hidden by the ESPN and TNT executives north of the border. Carmelo is still awful, capable of hitting jump shots, but just as likely to lose his head and get into a brawl. Chris Paul is capable of getting you a dunk or open three, or himself a lay-up or trip to the line, anytime he wants. Tayshaun Prince will always remain unheralded, a solid shooter, defender and transition player doomed to be surrounded by flashier stars.

As I mentioned in an e-mail to some people, as good as the 2008 team was, the 2012 team could be mind-blowingly good. While it's possible a lot of these guys will decline another three-year commitment, it seemed like they all enjoyed themselves enough to go at it again. Meaning, in London, you could have LeBron, Wade, CP3, Deron Williams, Bosh and Howard all in their prime, plus whoever you want to finish up with between Oden, Durant, Horford, Beasley, Rose, Mayo, etc. Throw in Kobe in the J-Kidd, cagey vet role and voila, perfection to the nth degree.

A few more thoughts as the Olympics are put away in a five-ringed cupboard until those crazy Canucks break them out in the winter of 2010:

* I think Michael Phelps managed to survive a media barrage from all angles and still be liked by most of America. The only things able to dwarf his in-pool accomplishments were the innumerable interviews and montages. It was a mad scramble for the remote anytime another Phelps interview started, which caused for a lot channel-flipping. The highlight of it all was NBC going to a Usain Bolt clip and mentioning something about Phelps, only to have the Jamaican sprinter not mention the swimmer. I think that maybe he'd been asked a question about he and Phelps' performances and the questions about doping, but that was not implied, just that you might see someone else talk about Phelps. Still, the 4x100 freestyle will go down as one of the better sporting events I'll ever see. Three cheers for Jason Lezak, indeed.

* I wish the U.S. media would stop putting the States at the top of the medal count. When one country gets that many more gold medals than the other, it is definitely the winner. The whole gymnastics scandal clouds things a bit, but there was ample opportunity for the United States to pull out victory.

* The IOC is probably the most gutless, corrupt organization on this planet. Going after Bolt's celebration while turning a blind eye to everything China did – heck, giving the Olympics to them anyway – was absolutely laughable.

* Speaking of Bolt, no man should be that fast. His 100-meter celebration was too sweet to get angry at, but it is a shame we didn't get to see how low he could have plunged the record. Also, Mike Leach is always watching.

* How did the United States lose in softball when they're eliminating the sport because they're supposed to be so good at it. If this was some lame attempt at saving the sport, thanks for giving the Chinese some more distance in the gold count.

* I'm not really sure the point of Mary Carillo's pieces were, but I'm glad they were kept relatively short, and the athlete sob stories relatively sob-less. You can do an Olympics without gooey, melodramatic, overly-sentimental coverage, as it turns out.

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