09/10/2006: "STOP DREAMING!!! Robert Bonnette breaks down Team USA Basketball"
Written by Robert Bonnette
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So the World Championships are over, and once again, the U.S. Team did not come home with the gold. Thanks to a loss to a Greek team that had no NBA players on its roster, our guys will once again have to be happy with the same bronze medal they got at the 2004 Olympics.
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And while none of us is totally surprised at the outcome weíre all a little disappointed, save for a few holdovers from the I-hope-these-jerks-lose crowd that openly rooted against our own Olympic team in 2004. Everyone has tried to come up with reasons why we lost, offering everything from not having any shooters (I still want to know just how we could go over there without any three point marksmen), not adjusting well to international rules, bad coaching (which is a joke), and just being too arrogant (The example here is not knowing any of the Greek players by name; Iíll get to that in a minute.) At the same time all of us armchair coaches out there are coming with our own miracle cures for all that ails the U.S. Team. Now some these cures make sense, but there are a few out there that need to be trashed in a hurry.
All the talk of how to fix things that has prompted a few people, mainly on the radio and the internet, to suggest that we go away from NBA players altogether and use some alternative group of guys to go over there. Everything from better attitudes to being able to practice and play together on a full time basis have used as reasons to back this line of thinking. Some people just have a longing for the feel good era of days gone by, where our athletes were all overjoyed to be playing for their country and didnít have to be coerced into showing up, while others believe that the issue is a lack of continuity and chemistry that can only be remedied by having guys who can be around each other all the time. To all of you, I must say as loudly as possible: Stop kidding yourselves. Please, put down whatever it is you were drinking before you picked up the phone or started banging away on your keyboard. Youíre only hurting yourself. Sending another group of players is out of the question. Why? Because they canít win. Period.
The worst of the crazy alternatives backers are the send-the-college-players crowd, those who think that if we send our best college players weíll stand a better chance of winning since they play a style that can be more effective under international rules (more zone defenses and set offenses). Their sentiment can be effectively summed up by Gregg Easterbrook, who wrote in his Tuesday Morning Quarterback (TMQ) column (which is a very good read on football), featured on ESPN.com Page 2:
ďOnce the United States dominated international basketball; our recent decline has coincided all but exactly with the decision to allow NBA players on U.S. Olympic and international-tournament teams. Obvious solution? Get rid of the NBA showoffs and go back to collegians. TMQ thinks the dozen best college basketball players of the United States, given a decent amount of practice time, would have beaten Greece.Ē
Gregg, I love you on football, but leave the basketball alone, OK? Do you remember 1988, when our college guys lost in the Olympics and got stuck with the bronze? I do. Those guys werenít playing selfishly and showing off; they just couldnít handle the European teams that were employing NBA caliber players like Arvydas Sabonis. Our college players would not win today. For one, every other country with NBA players would still be sending theirs. Would anyone have really wanted to see JJ Redick do battle with Manu Ginobli? Or watch all 227 pounds of Joakim Noah try to hold the paint down against Dirk Nowitzki or Yao Ming? Now if we could send them against foreign players in the same age group, things may be different. But that wonít happen, so forget about it. Our college kids are not physically up to the challenge, and they lack the experience to compete against battle tested European players, many of whom have played at the highest level on two continents. And even though Greece had no current NBA players on their teams, they do have two guys who have been drafted and will be playing here soon. Thereís no way our college guys beat that team.
The other ludicrous suggestion is that we should assemble a team comprised of just below NBA-ready guys, maybe D-leaguers or guys who are talented enough to be on a roster but are below the age limit, sequester them somewhere with a reasonable salary (enough to live but not live large), and let them train and play together year round. This sounds good on paper, but again, thereís a talent issue. Again, the other teams have NBA caliber players on them, many of them All-Stars. We canít send some 18 year olds or some guys who are on the fringes of the NBA in there against Dirk, Yao, etc. Again, people forget that when we play Spain weíre not playing against 12 guys that the Spanish government found playing streetball in Madrid, weíre playing against Pau Gasol, an All-Star and several other players who have had a least a cup of coffee in the league. When we play Argentina, weíre playing a team with multiple NBA players who get real minutes. A group of mediocre players canít beat them simply by practicing together year round, because at the end of the day theyíre still mediocre. We canít even send a group of B or C level NBA players, guys who are firmly entrenched in the league but are only fourth or fifth options in a starting five or first men off the bench. They would lose, too. We have to send our best. You know what a group of mediocre players that play together all the time are? A group of mediocre players. And we canít win with that.
Now thereís a third group of people that need to get ripped; the itís-ok-if-we-donít-win crowd. Some of these people have even gone as far as to say that theyíd be alright with us losing if it meant having guys who didnít need their arms twisted to play. Now that is just ludicrous. Even the teams like Angola that have no real chance of winning a medal still send a team over there with the intention of competing for one. To send a team with no chance simply because everyone on the roster will like to go is just stupid. If thatís the case, just get 12 guys from some weekend 30 and over league send them. They may come in last, but hey, at least they wanted to go. What kind of nonsense is that? You play to win the game, as Herm Edwards would say. Why have an Olympic team in the first place? Just run up the white flag and say, hey, we lose. I donít think so. We are Americans, after all, and we should knuckle up, overcome this adversity, and reclaim the throne. It wonít be as easy it used to be, but it can be done. We saw a glimpse of the light at the end of tunnel when Coach K put Lebron at point guard in the bronze medal game and our guys blew out the Argentineans, who were the favorite to win going in. So all hope is not lost. And donít forget, weíll have Kobe on the team in 2008. And despite the improvements across the globe, no one will have a better roster 1 through 12 than we will. Thereís work to do but our guys can do it. So all the haters out there need to go ahead and keep quiet unless they want to look like idiots in 2008.