Welcome to the Weekend Read. This week we mull over the future of USA Basketball, yank an old photo from the Dodgers' glory days and run through our favorite stories of the week. Enjoy.
• The King has been dethroned. Who is the new No. 1 on our annual list of the top 100 players in the NBA? (By Rob Mahoney)
• As physical tickets disappear, have we sacrificed something precious? These are the stories left behind by paper stubs. (By Steve Rushin)
• Mock draft alert: In our latest look at next year's NFL draft, the Dolphins successfully complete #TankForTua. (By Kevin Hanson)
• Afternoon baseball is a timeless tradition. What does it mean for players? Day Game Doughnuts, of course. (By Stephanie Apstein)
Team USA's Embarrassment Has Happened Before, and It Will Again
So … now what?
This is the question Jerry Colangelo, Gregg Popovich and the rest of the USA Basketball brass must contemplate when Team USA’s charter zips back across the Atlantic. It was a humbling week for the U.S., beginning with a 58-game winning streak-snapping loss to France in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup and continuing with a backbreaking loss to Serbia in the consolation bracket. The L to the Serbs guaranteed the U.S. will lock in its worst finish in a major international tournament.
Embarrassing? Sure. The squad the Americans sent to China wasn’t its best; more than a dozen players skipped out of USA Basketball duty in the last few months, leaving Colangelo and Co. with a skeleton team. But these were good players, All-Star level players, certainly good enough to hold a seven-point second-half lead against the French and close out a Serbian team that came into its matchup with the U.S. playing below expectations.
Is this a harbinger of things to come? Probably not. This mess will likely inspire America’s top stars, as it did in 2002, when the U.S. finished sixth at the World Championships. See, the World Cup doesn’t resonate with top NBA talent. It doesn’t have the sizzle of the Olympics. It’s poorly scheduled, with NBA players participating having a couple of weeks to recover before training camps open. When it comes time to wear the red, white and blue in Tokyo in 2020, expect Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry and James Harden to be there.
Still: Outcomes like what happened in China will happen again. The NBA is global. Has been for decades now. Against France, Rudy Gobert—a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year—was the best player on the floor. Serbia was backboned by Nikola Jokic, one of the NBA’s best big men, and Bojan Bogdanovic, himself deemed worthy of a four-year, $73 million deal from Utah this summer.
Team USA’s margin for error is too slim. France, Serbia, the core of these teams have been playing together for years. Luis Scola is 57 and still playing for Argentina (OK, maybe he’s 40). The U.S. will never have that type of consistency. The best it can hope for is the run it had from 2004 to 2016, when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant and others revived a floundering Team USA, supplemented by top rising talents like Davis, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
They can get that back. If history is any indicator, they will get that back. But five years, 10 years, 20 years from now, this will happen again. Apathy will take over. The U.S. will never have a true national team. It will always seek out the best players, as it should. That will result in some dominating tournament performances. It will also, as we saw this week in China, yield some tough defeats.
Vault Photo of the Week: Can the Dodgers Get Back on Top?
It's been nearly 31 years since the Dodgers last stood atop baseball's mountaintop. L.A., led by ace righty Orel Hershiser, topped the favored Oakland A's in the 1988 World Series and didn't reach the Fall Classic again until two years ago. Hershiser, who turns 61 this Monday, won series MVP honors that fall after allowing two runs across 18 innings (two complete games) against the A's. The Dodgers just won their seventh straight NL West title this week, so it's only right to continue wondering if this year will finally be the year. Until then, Hershiser reigns as the Dodgers' most recent October hero.
Photograph taken by SI's John Iacono during the 1988 World Series.
Editor’s note: What kind of stories and content would you like to see in the Weekend Read? Let's chat at SIWeekendRead@gmail.com.