You probably haven’t been paying much attention to basketball these days… and why would you?
The NFL season is upon us and the only basketball games that matter are being played halfway around the world, in China. The 2019 FIBA Tournament features a bunch of pretty good teams and what appears to be a dreadfully, lackluster USA basketball team that has a far worse chance of taking home gold than their female soccer counterparts.
That is not the only drama to come from around the globe. So far, the trash talking has been rich with Team USA sadly unable to back any of it up.
Not only is the USA only a slight favorite to win this thing (inconceivable!) but you can get the field at +155. Or at least you could have one week ago when I placed the wager. Considering the Americans narrowly escaped with an overtime victory against Turkey in Game Two of the tournament, that wager looks like the best investment I ever made. If anybody has looked like a turkey so far, it’s been Team USA.
This year’s USA basketball team is not comprised of the usual superstars with which you’ve become familiar partially because of the timing of the tournament and partially because those names you know are you are getting older. No, this current list of young names, who have yet to really prove anything, could barely make an NBA All-Star squad.
If I were to tell you that Team USA has left their FIBA championship hopes in the hands of Joe Harris, Derrick White and Brook Lopez, how confident would you feel about going against the other loaded teams in this tournament which include Spain, Argentina, France, Greece and of course, Serbia.
Don’t be surprised if Team USA bows out long before anyone expects them to. I don’t want it to happen. I’m just keeping it real. And when, not if, they lose, it will be back to the drawing board all over again.
Over time, these things have a way of correcting themselves just as they did in 1992. That’s when they put together the first “Dream Team,” shortly after US athletes lost to the Soviet Union in 1988. Compiling that first Dream Team was like watching the Marvel Universe’s Avengers assemble on film, except better because it really happened.
Fast forward to 2019. There is no denying that the international talent, ironically in large part because of that Dream Team, has caught up to the United States in leaps and bounds. The best players in this tournament are not playing for the US team because the best players in this tournament are not American. Giannis Antetokounmpo plays for the Greek national team. Nikola Jokic plays for Serbia. These two men finished first and fourth in MVP voting this year respectively.
Based on that logic alone, one can only conclude that Team USA is not the best team in this tournament.
Before I upset myself any further, let’s move on to that other drama I was talking about. Speaking of the best talent in the league, reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, aka the Greek Freak, just got called out by the coach of the Brazilian national team. After being held to only 13 points in a 79-78 loss to Brazil, the coach had a few choice words for one of the NBA’s biggest stars while simultaneously praising his veteran, defensive specialist, 39-year old Alex Garcia.
“Why this sport is wonderful,” said Brazilian head coach Aleksandar Petrovic. “You have a guy who won MVP, he’s 23 years old, and who stops him tonight? The guy who is 40 years old and kicks his ass.” We old guys can relate. Suddenly, I feel only slightly better.
The Brazilian head coach isn’t the only one making noise. The Serbian head coach said he can’t wait to get his hands on the US team. When asked about a potential matchup against the Americans, Aleksandar “Sasha” Djordjevic said “If we meet, may God help them.”
Back in the day, do you think an opposing coach would have said that about Michael, Magic, Larry and Sir Charles or even LeBron, Kobe, DWade and Carmelo? Of course not. They were too busy asking them for autographs.
For the record, I have absolutely no problem with the fact that international basketball has caught up with the Americans. As I mentioned earlier, we are in large part responsible for that. What I have a problem with is the lack of talent on the floor for Team USA and what’s once again an underwhelming lack of desire to play for this team.
It is unfair to expect Steph Curry and LeBron and Kawhi to play in every international tournament that comes their way, especially after they’ve played long NBA seasons and post-seasons. Heck, the NBA pre-season will begin shortly after this FIBA tournament is over. It just seems like we’ve been through this before.
In another few years, there will be no more LeBron James and Steph Currys to bail us out of these NBA jams. Jerry Colangelo is the managing director of USA Basketball and has been for some time. Under his watch, Team USA is 88-1 in international play!!! That includes six gold medals and one bronze, that lone blemish coming in the 2006 World Championship. Team USA hasn’t lost an official game since then. So why in the world should we start now?
Perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect perfection. After all, 88-1 is a pretty damn impressive. It’s been a fine stretch of basketball, a stretch that looks like it might come to an end.
This 2019 team has some big shoes to fill. Those of us who are give a hoot understand this team hasn’t lost in thirteen years. Some of us out there would like to keep it that way. Unfortunately, my money is against it.