Believe it or not, there still was plenty of Shaq-Kobe chatter filling up the mailbox this week. But we are moving on to more serious issues, such as the state of USA Basketball (can Hot Sauce save us?), the trouble with track, the NFL's cutthroat contracts and, most importantly, how much we all wish Ben Affleck would just shut up.
As always, my responses appear in italics. Now on to The People's Voice ...
USA BASKETBALL ("No going back" Aug. 2, 2004)
Is it possible for the U.S. team to actually play an international-style game? After losing to Italy by 17 points I'm not sure. It looked like the U.S. team was letting the Italian team drive to the basket and kick out for three-point baskets.
There is no excuse for allowing 95 points. Obviously there was no defense played, but with the athletes we have, that is correctable. My long-term concern with this team is shooting. Why, with the last selection, did Larry Brown add Emeka Okafor instead of an outside shooter such as Michael Redd? This could haunt them.
Your article about the U.S. Olympic team makes a good point, but I wanted to offer another side to the argument of using college kids. With the U.S. losing to Italy in an exhibition game, when are people going to realize that the NBA is not how the game of basketball is supposed to be played? Italy beat the U.S. because they played the game the way it is supposed to be played: pass the ball, open man takes the shot, great TEAM defense.
At least most college kids play the game. They are forced to actually play defense and not take four steps to the basket every time to try and dunk on someone (although the NBA is doing a good job of ruining that). Last time I checked, a dunk is only worth two points, just as much as two free throws or a 16-foot jumper.
If you play the game the way it is supposed to be played you will win, and that clearly has been the U.S. team's problem the past few years. They don't play basketball. They might as well be on those AND 1 tapes rather than embarrassing themselves in international competition.
Fort Worth, Texas
I hear you, but the Italians would have beaten our college kids by 40. Maybe you have to see firsthand how good these other countries are to believe it, but trust me. Considering your mention of the AND 1 tape, what about sending Hot Sauce, Main Event and The Professor to Athens? Not sure any of them would pass the drug test, but it would be fun while it lasted.
Do you think sending the NCAA champs would be a better solution than sending the pros? They would have the benefit of knowing how to play as a team.
As much fun as that would be, no. These foreign teams are too big, too strong and too good.
Has anything been said about sending the reigning NBA championship team? We always seem to complain about not having time spent playing together when we head to the Olympics. The best team in the world which spent 80-plus games together would have a better shot at winning than some hodgepodge mix-n-match All-Stars.
But not all of the players are from the USA. And what if Dallas ever won it? We'd have to hope the Olympics switched to three-on-three because that's about all the Americans we'd have.
I agree with your comments on the Olympics. Seems to me that the Olympics ought to be the best going against the best. Anything less and, at least for me, they lose a lot of their meaning.
San Diego, Calif.
I keep hearing about how different the international basketball game is from that of the NBA. I'll say. The international basketball rules are built around the idea of passing, team defense, and organized plays – much like NCAA basketball.
Watching any regular season NBA game will reveal just how weak our professional players are in the areas of fundamentals, basketball knowledge and team play. And judging by Tuesday's result against Italy, it seems apparent that an Olympic team filled with NBA players has just as good a chance of losing by double-digits as a team comprised of college players.
Call it "quaint," but if I have to watch a loss, I'll gladly take college kids that play with heart and teamwork over a bunch of over-talented, under-skilled NBA players who never seemed to learn the art of basketball. With any luck, the NBA will finally do some soul-searching and figure out exactly what changes need to be made to return to a level of basketball that is able to compete against the world.
New York, N.Y.
EDDIE GEORGE ("Nothing personal" July 21, 2004)
One point about the Eddie George article that you failed to mention is that Titans paid him a million-dollar roster bonus in March, so the total package was $2.5 million for 2004.
I did omit this fact which, to some, paints George in a bad light.
It's not just the NFL, Mr. Wetzel. It's life. Stories abound about companies laying off workers, many of whom are nearing retirement. Welcome to the new reality.
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Your critique of the Eddie George situation was right on! The NFL, unlike its roundball counterparts, has set up a fail-proof infrastructure based upon the premise that salaries, like first downs, have to be earned. There's no such thing as a free lunch when even the most talented player can be shown the door by management at any time with no strings attached.
Still, in an age where Mo Vaughn remains the seventh-highest paid player in baseball and Tim Duncan ranked 25th on the 2003-04 NBA money list behind the likes of Anfernee Hardaway (10th) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (11th), it's nice to know that at least one of the major professional sports leagues has its act together.
But then again, how do I know how hard it is to feed a family of four on $17.5 million a year?
Corporate Park, Mass.
I read your columns on the trials and thought you were spot-on.
U.S. track and field has been indelibly stained by the drug cheats. It may not be a dying sport, but in terms of credibility and respect it now occupies the rung between the WWE and roller derby. It's no longer possible to witness an exceptional performance without wondering which new steroid this guy is using.
As someone who grew up in the Willamette Valley where track was king, it really saddens me to see what the sport has come to.
Eagle River, Alaska
I was delighted to read your commentary on Gail Devers. She is a remarkable athlete, having overcome major physical illness to achieve and maintain world-class status in a sport in a way perhaps only Lance Armstrong can rival.
She also is a gracious lady who understands her own responsibility and gives praise to her Maker and her support team. She also accepts the fact that accidents can happen at any time, and one must live with the consequences, not expend energy blaming everyone in sight. She is a wonderful role model and leader for the younger athletes on the American team.
Is there anyone who seriously, honestly, truthfully, absolutely, positively, without a doubt, no questions asked CARES what Ben Affleck thinks?
It's nauseating having to hear his opinion on everything these days. He should do ads for Kleenex with all his griping about the Yankees. "Oooooooh, George Steinbrenner is a jerk. 'Evil Empire,' this-and-that, boo-hoo ... waaaaahhhhh."
Shut up Ben. "Gigli" sucked ... I'm told ... by everyone.
Ben Affleck is an embarrassment to all Red Sox fans. The other night on ESPN, in the midst of one of his pathetic, illogical, jealous whines about the Yankees, he called the umpires "referees." He can't even act like a baseball fan.
- Ben Affleck