“I’ve been waiting four years for this moment. I’ve been waiting four years for this gold medal. It’s going to be special.” – U.S. Olympic basketball player Carmelo Anthony
The once-invincible United States men’s basketball team arrived in China on Monday, and they promised the world it will be different this time around.
If you listened closely, you could hear the strains of that ill-fated cry of atonement so carelessly invented by the marketing department of the 1978 Philadelphia 76ers: “We owe you one.”
And so this $140 million assemblage of young men’s intentions and old men’s dreams sauntered into land of Confucius and the ancient Tao, of 7-and-a-half-foot Yao and Chairman Mao, brimming with optimism.
They’re the new Dirty Dozen, 12 multimillionaires with a chip on their collective shoulder.
So being, they’ve got all the makings of an epic underdog. Perhaps they will reprise the efforts of the 1980 U.S. hockey team, shock the world at the Wukesong Indoor Stadium and in so doing inaugurate a new golden age of USA hoops.
Do you believe in miracles?
But first they’ll need to survive the Group of Death. If they can somehow finish in the top four in a brutal pool that includes China, Angola, Greece, Germany and Spain, they’ll move on to the knockout stages.
I’ve got a sneaky suspicion they might be up to the challenge. Why?
They are 12 men molded into one selfless unit by that most beloved of all college basketball panjandrums, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
They say that embarrassing bronze medal, the tragic fate which befell the Americans at Athens 2004, changed everything.
Not only did they not return home with their birthright – the gold the U.S. had won in 12 of 14 previous attempts and had stolen from them in Munich 1972 – but they suffered more defeats in Athens (three) than the American team had suffered in all previous Olympiads combined.
Then there was that sixth-place showing at the 2002 world championships, and another bronze at the 2006 worlds. That’s a motherload of payback.
Now the whole philosophy, culture and reality of USA Basketball has been born again. No more is the U.S. a mere collection of cocky superstars trying with varying degrees of success to get out of the way of their egos on the court.
No. This a team, a plucky unit that is greater than the sum of its middling parts.
With Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh, this team is loaded with talented up-and-comers and blue-collar grinders who won’t be intimidated if they get into a quarterfinal slugfest with Latvia or Australia.
Yes, they’re talented, and they’ve got heart, but can these dreamers hang with the Spains, the Argentinas, the veritable colossi of the world basketball kingdom?
James thinks they have a chance.
“We don’t have a choice but to win,” the Cleveland Cavaliers’ journeyman said. “That’s what we’re here for. …
“We’re going over there expecting to win the gold.”
Oh, the brashness of youth! If they play their hearts out, keep their heads about them and remain naive to the imposing challenge before them, these kids just might pull it off.
And what a story that would be!