- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie2 hrs ago
On Sunday, the USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team dominated Serbia 129-92 to win the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup of Basketball. Apart from the first few minutes, it was a decidedly one-sided affair, with Team USA meeting and arguably exceeding expectations as the game's overwhelming favorite. Serbia simply looked overmatched.
Yet if Serbia was not particularly competitive in the gold-medal game itself, they at least made a statement in one of the contest's sideshows. Serbian center Miroslav Raduljica, who played for the Milwaukee Bucks this past season but looks likely to return to Europe, has a very impressive beard. Team USA guard James Harden is well known for having his own signature facial hair. In the wake of Serbia's loss, Raduljica took solace in claiming that, even if his team had not challenged the Americans on the court, his beard had bested Harden's in battle:
- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie2 days ago
It isn't the matchup many expected, but it looks intriguing nonetheless. On Sunday, Team USA will face Serbia in the gold-medal game of the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Madrid, set to air at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN. With co-favorite Spain having gone out in the quarterfinals with a surprising loss to rivals France, the Serbs took the opportunity afforded to them and dispatched several impressive opponents in the knockout rounds on their way to the final. The Americans are understandably huge favorites, but Serbia boasts several stars and quality role players. It's not impossible to imagine a scenario in which they pull off one of the biggest upsets in the history of international basketball.
Before they get that chance, though, Serbia requires something of an introduction to fans unfamiliar with their stars, style, and performance up to this point. How did they get here? Who are their stars? And what could give them a chance against such an overwhelming favorite? Read on to find out.
1. Their path to the final wasn't easy — or predictable.
- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie3 days ago
Close games can often be decided by the smallest of plays and actions, from a fortuitous bounce in the fight for a loose ball to a shot rimming out when it looked halfway through the net. In Friday's FIBA World Cup of Basketball semifinal between Serbia and France, one lucky carom off the hand of big man Miroslav Raduljica ended up giving one side a chance to play for the gold medal.
With roughly 5:50 remaining in the fourth quarter and Serbia up 63-57 in the midst of a France run, Bogdan Bogdanovic fired a one-handed pass towards Raduljica in the paint. It wasn't particularly accurate, so the 7-0 center raised his right hand in a searching attempt to gain control of the ball. Instead, it ricocheted off his hand, off the glass, and through the hoop for two big points. Take a look:
- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie4 days ago
The ongoing controversy regarding the racial attitudes of the Atlanta Hawks front office has compelled various statements and opinions, many of which state that general manager Danny Ferry should be relieved of his duties, or at least suggest that he's not long for the job. While the franchise's primary owner Bruce Levenson has already decided to sell his interest after the revelation of his own offensive remarks made in a 2012 email, the fate of Ferry has yet to be determined following the offseason conference call in which he referred to widely admired then-free agent Luol Deng as having "a little African in him" in claiming that his reputation is not entirely deserved. Even if Ferry was merely reading off a report — which is up for debate following the latest report on the conference call from Yahoo's own Adrian Wojnarowski — Ferry showed extreme negligence and racial insensitivity. Such behavior is highly questionable coming from a man who decides matters of employment in a league with black players constituting a majority of the on-court workforce.
When LeBron James decided to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, his original NBA team and the franchise closest to his hometown of Akron, the reaction was largely positive. LeBron didn't only reverse the pain of 2010's widely criticized "The Decision" — he also expressed a seemingly genuine desire to give back to his home state and community. It reminded NBA fans that the sport isn't just about the business. Sometimes, a player can make a decision with a sizable interest in his own history and in leaving a legacy to others who might grow up in a similar situation.
On Monday, Miami Heat forward Luol Deng was promptly thrown into the middle of a scandal in which he had no direct role. Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry had made racist comments (or relayed them without much consternation) regarding Deng's African birth and upbringing, although "not in a bad way." When it turned out that those remarks were even worse than initially thought, Deng received more unrequested attention.
Hawks minority owner wrote letter, pressured Bruce Levenson to get rid of Danny Ferry after comments on Luol Deng
The racial attitudes of the Atlanta Hawks front office look worse with every passing day. On Monday night, a report from WSB-TV in Atlanta elaborated on racist comments attributed to general manager Danny Ferry and cast outgoing owner Bruce Levenson's decision to sell his controlling interest in the franchise in a new light. The news doesn't just pile on to the mess in Atlanta — it raises questions as to whether Ferry will eventually be forced to leave the team, too.
- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie7 days ago
The NBA is an increasingly global organization, but international tournaments like the ongoing FIBA World Cup of Basketball expose American athletes to nations and cultures they may have never experienced. The 12 men on Team USA may know that many of their opponents hail from lands with rich basketball heritages, or that various noteworthy NBA players learned the game in these countries. But do they know the specific national character of these teams? Or even where to locate them on a map?
On Tuesday, Team USA faces Slovenia (also a pre-tournament exhibition opponent) in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Before the game, one media member decided it was worthwhile to hand American center DeMarcus Cousins a geography test (via EOB):
Classic U.S. moment: European journalist to DeMarcus Cousins: "Do you know where Slovenia is?" Cousins: "No, do you know where Alabama is?"
- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie7 days ago
Sports history is full of athletes who fail to fulfill their potential, those blessed with incredible talent who succumb to injuries, demons, or vague factors that don't allow for such romanticized conclusions. In basketball, few have ever loomed as large as Marvin "Bad News" Barnes, the second overall pick in the 1974 NBA draft behind Bill Walton.
Barnes entered professional basketball with an already long history of off-court problems that started even before he starred at Providence College, opted to forgo playing for the Philadelphia 76ers to join the ABA's Spirit of St. Louis, and soon engaged in even more bad behavior, including drug use, drug dealing, and occasional unexplained jaunts away from the team. Barnes eventually played four seasons in the NBA, but he never came close to fulfilling his Hall of Fame potential and is remembered primarily for the off-court incidents that have been documented in Terry Pluto's essential ABA history "Loose Balls" and the ESPN documentary "Free Spirits."
- Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie9 days ago
The 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball has been discussed largely in terms of a gold-medal matchup between the United States and Spain, but we're still several games away from that contest. In a sports world that sees such widely anticipated matchups never materialize, it's sometimes best never to assume something is a foregone conclusion. Then again, anyone who watched Team USA's Round of 16 game against Mexico on Saturday can be forgiven for thinking that at least one of the teams will see little competition before the final.
Team USA rolled Mexico 86-63 in a game that rarely felt as close as that final score. Despite a valiant effort from the underdogs, the Americans never looked in real danger. It remains to be seen if future games will introduce more doubt.