Thursday, August 4, 2016

One Sure Thing

There are no sure things in sports--the term "upset" comes from the name of the only horse to ever beat the Triple Crown winner Man O' War in a race--but there are a couple of sure things in the upcoming Olympics.  One is that US Men's Basketball team will win the gold medal.  The other is that the US Women's Basketball team will win gold as well.

Despite not having LeBron James or Steph Curry, the men's team is far and away the most-talented team in the competition.  They blew out everyone in their exhibition games leading up to Rio and there is no real time zone change to adapt to--as Brazil is in the same hemisphere.

It wasn't that long ago that USA Men's Basketball wasn't an automatic gold medal winner.  The team that went to Athens in 2004--just 12-years ago--lost three games and came home with only bronze.  I remember at the time that experts were saying that the US was no longer the "undisputed superpower of the sport".  That Europeans had surpassed us in terms of fundamentals and team play--and that sending an all-star team was not going to be good enough anymore.  (In a way it reminds me every foreign policy speech that President Obama has ever given.)

To be honest, the 2004 team sent to Athens was a disaster.  It was a bunch of ballhogs, guys that couldn't shoot and totally devoid of any defensive effort.  It was the era of "AND1" basketball--streetball ruled the game and it was all about getting your shots, looking at flashy as possible doing it--and who cares about everybody else on the court.  It didn't help that the incredibly over-rated Larry Brown was the coach--who hated the style of play and the young guys that were playing it.

But now, just 12-years later, here is the US standing head and shoulders above the rest of the world again.  While he may be portrayed as this bad guy, LeBron James should get plenty of the credit.  He was on the 2004 team--but Brown hardly played him--and since then his style of play has returned some credibility to the NBA game.  LeBron shares the ball and sets up his teammates.  He rebounds, he defends and he works within a team system to win.  And the guys that grew up wanting to be him--and not Alan Iverson or Stephon Marbury--make up the team that will stomp everyone in Rio.

And if you think the gap between the US and the rest is big in the men's game--the Team USA Ladies will likely find even less competition in their tournament.  They are currently on a 41-game Olympic winning streak--and few of those games have even been close.  This year's NCAA Champion UConn Huskies could probably have come to the Olympics and won the gold.  But we should give credit to the WNBA for this one thing--keeping US players involved in the game stateside--so that international competition like this is more interesting for them.

So go ahead, put the mortgage payment down on a double gold for the USA on the hardwoods this month.  It's one of the few "five-star, sure-fire, solid-gold lock of the week" that you will ever find.

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