Thursday, July 24, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Sun Expanded Coverage
Our Olympic basketball team is going to play Canada at the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday night in an exhibition game that might be interesting only if the Canadians were allowed to play on skates and Wayne Gretzky weren’t busy.
Or if Steve Nash weren’t in New York’s Central Park playing pickup soccer, or however he spends his summers.
The Canadians didn’t even qualify for the Olympics and the last time anybody checked, former UNLV shot-adjuster Joel Anthony, who grew up in Montreal, was on the roster. Along with both McKenzie Brothers and two of the three founding members of Rush.
Mark my words. The Canadians are gonna make that Puerto Rico team from two years ago look like the Red Auerbach Celtics.
Next month’s Olympics might be a little more interesting, but only if the Americans hadn’t practiced defending the pick-and-roll play. That was all Greek to Team USA the last time the world got together to play basketball. Actually, it was just all Greece in the second and third quarters as the best and highest-paid slam-dunkers in the world lost 101-95 to a bunch of guys with “Hellas” on the front of their jerseys.
I think “Hellas” is the Greek word for overachieving 18-point underdogs who play as a unit, but I could be wrong. (Actually, it has something to do with the Hellenic Republic, which is the official name by which Greece is known.)
There’s gonna be Hellas to pay back home if the Americans don’t bring back the gold medal along with a gazillion dollars in shoe sales this time. But let’s be real. The reason you might be watching the NBA all-stars play basketball in August against a bunch of guys with funny-sounding names and weird-looking jump shots is not so much because you want to see our guys win, but because you want to see if they’ll blow it again.
The USA was so invincible in Olympic basketball that we never lost a game until 1972. And that was our college kids. It still took the Russians three tries and a game clock that moved as fast as a polar ice cap to beat us.
We were still upset about that 20 years later when we started sending men to do what had been a job for boys. That was the Dream Team of 1992, and the rest of the world was so impressed by Michael Jordan and Larry Bird and the way Charles Barkley poked fun at skinny guys from Angola that it started to work on its collective jump shot.
More accurately, the rest of the world started checking out dusty old books on basketball in the local library. Where else would you find the pick-and-roll play?
The Europeans and the South Americans ran those ancient plays like Pete Newell and Hank Iba drew them up on the chalkboard. The Angolans, not so much.
Now, the Americans haven’t played for a gold medal on an international stage in eight years.
Now, American basketball fans are wondering what in the name of Bill Russell and Jerry Lucas is going on.
Yeah, I know. We’ve got great players. The rest of the world has a bunch of guys with lots of vowels in their names who set screens, get back on defense and play as a team. Like the cast of “Hoosiers.”
The Washington Generals played as a team, too. I never saw them beat the Globetrotters. Not even with Geese Ausbie in the high post.
Maybe our guys should be working on the picket fence play or the confetti-in-the-water-pail trick instead of defending the pick-and-roll.
Team USA, which still is ranked No. 1 in the world by FIBA despite those repeated toe stubs, is sort of darned if it does in Beijing. And really, really darned if it doesn’t.
But the prediction here is that the Yanks are gonna make the rest of the world look like panda bears in Beijing because Coach K does not lose to Clemson twice in the same lifetime.
He’s gonna practice against the pick, defend against the roll. Our guys are gonna smash Greece like 2-day-old baklava. We’re gonna turn Argentina into tango dancers. Basketball James (as in LeBron) is coming to town, and he’s bringing Kobe with him.
Remember Doug Collins! Remember Mitch Richmond! Remember the Alamo!
And by all means, do not forget to get a hand in Manu Ginobili’s face, just in case.