SportsProf

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Monday, August 30, 2004

Heart of Gold

The kid finally gets it.

The Answer has found his answer.

And it's a great one.

I've blogged a lot about USA Basketball and the USA men's basketball team at the Olympics. I couldn't figure out who would beat them out for a medal, and I couldn't figure out why Stu Jackson and company couldn't cobble together a team more suited for the international game. Others wondered about the teamwork, the heart, the commitment, and many questioned the effort at times. In the end, they didn't win the gold, they won the bronze, and Team USA showed a lot of character by rebounding from the disappointing semifinal loss to Argentina to beat Lithuania in a rematch for the bronze.

And one of the co-captains had this to say: "Guys have to understand that, first and foremost, it's an honor to be selected for this team. This is something you should cherish for the rest of your life. You're supposed to approach this as something special. Any person selected to a team like this, there should be no question in your mind. You get a chance to represent your country, and what's better than that? If you grew up to be an NBA basketball player, you know what this country has done for you and your family. It gave you the opportunity to support your family and be recognized as a household name. Anybody selected to this team should take the honor and cherish it."

That captain's name: Allen Iverson. "The kid", as Larry Brown has been wont to call him. The guy with the flaky ideas about practice who leaves it all on the floor in a game. People can question some of his attitudes, some of his training methods, but no one can question the effort he puts forth on the floor. Even in the Olympics. Allen Iverson might have led his team to "only" a bronze medal, but I'd rather have him, his bronze, his commitment and these sentiments than the gymnastics world, Paul Hamm and his gold medal.

Any day of the week.

So while it's easy to jump on Allen Iverson for all that's wrong with USA Basketball, remember this: of all the marquis names in the NBA, only AI and Tim Duncan were "first' choices of USA Basketball. They entered the arena, they were brave, and they dared to show up when most of the other "first" choices chose "the dog ate my homework" types of excuses and stayed away.

The members of Team USA showed up and played despite having little time to practice together, despite huge expectations that meant that anything but a gold was a big disappointment, despite having Stu Jackson put together a team not suited for the international game, despite the U.S.'s not having a national system that gets the national team together every summer the way most of the other countries do, despite having the youngest team in the Olympic twelve. They showed up knowing that every other team would get way up for them, and they showed up knowing that the gap has narrowed between them and any other rival, especially under international rules.

And, yes, because the best talent is supposed to win out in the end, no matter what, they were a disappointment. They should have won the gold medal, regardless, because they're Team USA and they're always supposed to win. That's not an unfair assessment, but before you indict the guys who played, examine the system, the probable politics of USA Basketball, the guys who declined. And examine the fact that after the heartbreaking loss to Argentina, this supposed bunch of heartless guys came out in the bronze-medal game, no doubt feeling the huge disappointment, and they won the thing. Even if, in the U.S. public's way of thinking, the game couldn't have meant much because it wasn't for the gold medal.

Who says that they don't have any heart? They were the ones who answered the call of USA Baskeball when others didn't, and they answered the bell after being knocked down by Argentina.

And their co-captain?

He may have "only" a bronze medal around his neck, but he has a heart of gold.

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