Thanks readers for your insights and feedback. I thoroughly enjoy reading your comments and hearing so many different opinions. I've found that many of you object vehemently to some of my ideas and opinions. Not only do I respect that, I enjoy it. Good solid debate spawns new ideas and thoughts, and I appreciate all of you who have taken the time to write to me.
Let's get to your feedback …
BRONZE EFFORT ("Fall from Greece" August 28, 2004)
Many of you were disturbed that I wrote that Team USA came home from the Athens Games "empty-handed."
Tim Pudenz and William Quintana both thought I was being unfair to the U.S. players, since they did win the bronze medal. David Power of Ireland went a step further and wrote that my quote was an example of why there's so much Anti-American sentiment overseas. He felt I was being greedy for expecting an automatic win in the Olympics and that we Americans shouldn't feel such a sense of entitlement when it comes to international basketball.
I would respond to that by saying all three of you are correct. I should not have used the phrase "empty-handed," since clearly our national team came home with something around its neck. And I should have acknowledged the fact that Team USA played hard and earned a tough win over a very good Lithuanian team.
However, if you saw the looks on the players' faces after winning the third-place game, it would be hard to argue that they felt a sense of accomplishment. It was clear from the outset that the players along with the American fans expected a gold medal in Athens, and anything less was going to be looked at as a failure. Is that fair? Probably not.
But as Mr. Power wrote, we Americans have "the greatest basketball league in the world, the widest talent pool, the greatest player ever, at least the top five players currently playing."
So shouldn't our expectations be high? I believe that the pressure of those expectations helped Argentina beat us. It's very difficult to win as the favorite. But that's just part of sports.
As for those expectations being an example of America's poor image around the world, I couldn't disagree with you more. I'd like to think that global anti-Americanism has more to do with our government's foreign policy, and not our country's expectations for our basketball team.
Can you imagine how furious soccer fans in Argentina, Brazil or England would be if their teams lost to the United States in the World Cup? Sports fans are sports fans. They have passion, expectations, joy and disappointment. That's the beauty of it. Americans felt we should have won the gold, and so did Team USA. We didn't. We failed.
Sticking with a soccer theme, Glenn Laubaugh from Brazil wrote that he thought Argentina's basketball success came partly from the "team mentality" that the players learned from growing up playing soccer.
I think he makes a great point. Manu Ginobili used to dazzle us in San Antonio with his soccer skills, kicking basketballs into the hoop from half court and doing all sorts of tricks with the ball. It was easy to see how his basketball game was influenced by soccer. He has unbelievable vision, constantly looks for passing angles, has great touch handling the ball and plays a driving, attacking style – all attributes of soccer.
Toni Kukoc used to do the same things in Chicago, and I believe it was soccer that taught him his basketball style. Argentina won the gold medal with superior passing skills, and we could take a lesson from that.
Many of you offered ideas as to how we can improve our Olympic team for Beijing in 2008. Dennis from Plano, Texas, felt it was simply a matter of sending a more prepared U.S. squad and not a hodgepodge of popular players. Ray Encomieda of the Philippines felt we should send the NBA championship team, and if that roster was filled with foreigners, to fill it in with other NBA players.
Mike Sinclair felt that if Team USA had more practice time, more familiarity with the rules and better players, it would win easily. He pointed to Team USA's 35-point blowout of Argentina in the 2003 Olympic qualifying tournament as proof. Dave from Texas went further, writing that any NBA team, including "the second unit in Cleveland," could win the gold medal given the proper time to prepare.
While I think international competition has improved dramatically, and I don't think any NBA second unit would win a medal in the Olympics, I do believe that the key to winning international championships is more prep time and better familiarity with the rules.
Still, I'm not sure how we can achieve that. As much as we'd love to see Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett suiting up for the U.S. every four years, it's not going to happen. Other international teams, like Argentina or Lithuania, are going to send similar national teams to competitions every summer because their talent pools are smaller, and their players are expected to compete.
The United States has a huge talent pool from which to choose, and once players compete a single time, they are not expected to play again. The result is that there will be a new crop of Americans every year on our national team.
As for adapting the NBA game to fit the international style, that's not going to happen, either. I recently spoke with Jerry Colangelo about this issue, and he said that the NBA rules committee has discussed this in-depth and decided not to alter league rules.
I believe – as I wrote in my last column – that the selection committee will pay more attention to fitting a team together next time. And it may schedule a couple of more weeks of practice time – perhaps earlier in the summer – before sending the team to Beijing. But I don't see any other changes.
Many of you questioned how we can improve our game. James from Australia asked if fans would be turned off by the NBA if the league allowed true zones.
Frankly, I'd love to see any zones allowed in the league. It offers more strategy and places a premium on outside shooting, which would force players to sharpen their marksmanship. But would fans be turned off? I don't think so. I don't believe fans are as infatuated with high scores as many people think. Most fans just want to see good, exciting basketball. Argentina played a lot of zone in the Olympics, and it was very exciting to watch.
Finally, three tidbits that are worth mentioning: George Holland asked if the dunk or one-on-one play was hurting our game. Curtis Taylor thought maybe highlight shows haven't helped matters by spotlighting dunks instead of team play. And Karen Taylor said that, because of the players' dedication to each other, the U.S. women's team is now the real "dream team."
I'd have to say they all make solid points. The women's team is dominant and is a joy to watch because of its selfless, team-oriented style. Yes, the women are now our "dream team."
As for the dunk hurting our game, I don't think it is. Dunks bring excitement and flair to the game. It's what happens before the dunk that could use some work. I'd love to see more passing and cutting, rather than one-on-one dribbling in our game. And as for highlight shows, can we really blame them for the deterioration of our game? Sure, why not? Somebody call Dan Patrick and tell him he's ruining our game. And blame him for the economy, too.
Thanks for your interest and your letters, and keep them coming.
- Team USA