It’s been 33 years, but I still remember how furious I was after the Soviet Union’s 82-76 victory over the United States at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. And it wasn’t a designed flight. by incompetent officials like in 1972. It was fair and square.
The Soviets, led by future NBA pros Arvydas Sabonis and Šarūnas Marčiulionis, were simply better than American college kids. It was hard to digest.
My anger was directed in particular at head coach John Thompson Sr. and how flawed his approach to attacking the European game played by the Soviets was, but also the way he chose his team. Thompson cut in practice the best perimeter shooter in American basketball, Steve Kerr, who had just shot 0.572 to 3 points in his last season in Arizona.
That left the Americans’ only reliable perimeter shooter, Bradley’s Hersey Hawkins, who sprained his knee during the Games, leaving Thompson without any effective goaltenders. or a sniper with a dead eye.
It has already turned out that this is no way to win in international basketball against players like USSR Marčiulionis, Yugoslavs Toni Kukoć and Drazen Petrović and Brazilian Oscar Schmidt. They had adopted the new 3-point bow adopted by FIBA as the Americans dragged their feet, focusing instead on interior power and defense.
Yet even a dozen years after the Dream Team’s descent on Barcelona, the United States had to relearn the lesson with their Fourth All-star team of the NBA led by Allen Iverson, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. It was a team overloaded with static one-on-one and two-player players and not enough passers and shooters.
This 2004 result also made me angry as an American. And yet the influences of the international ball were becoming so prevalent in the NBA that the line blurred between what was our basketball and what was theirs. The possible five-time champion of the San Antonio Spurs already sported two major cogs from different continents, the Argentinian Manu Ginobili and the French Tony Parker.
And now? Well it’s so mixed and homogenized that I don’t really think about it is an American brand of balloon. When the Olympic men’s basketball competition begins on Saturday with Team USA’s first game in a week against France, I don’t know if I’ll even bother to support the Americans. First of all because a lot of my favorite players will be playing for other nations. Second, because I love the cross-pollination of international influences and where our game is which was actually invented by a Canadian (James Naismith), even though he popularized it here in the United States.
Fran Fraschilla sees it my way. Of course, he is arguably the most internationalized of American basketball analysts. When Fraschilla returns to his role at the Rio 2016 Olympics as NBC’s senior analyst on men’s basketball TV shows for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, he will do so with a deeply impartial eye. Because he loves the game and sees it at a fascinating time:
“A lot of basketball is global now that I see things in college and the NBA that come directly from international basketball – strategies, concepts, fundamentals. What they did was they tweaked the game for us. And basketball is actually in a great place right now. “
In other words, it’s about as far as it gets from the hero junk we had to endure through most of the ’90s and early 2000s that led to the embarrassing rise of the United States in 2004. It was at this point that Iverson-Anthony- Group James was humiliated by Puerto Rico and also beaten by Lithuania and Argentina and finished with a bronze medal.
“We have more kids working on jumps and passing than ever before,” said Fraschilla. “In 2004, it was a culture of isolation. With all due respect to Allen Iverson, the [US] the game was moving away from team spirit.
“But if you watch a good college or NBA game now, the guys are actually moving the ball.”
First these Spurs teams, then the Golden State Warriors championship were made of such beautiful basketball. And, as Fraschilla pointed out with an international metaphor, they were deeply influenced by the overseas game improving ours:
“Imagine that we are all at the Louvre in Paris. American coaches are studying the Mona Lisa head-on. Our international coach friends are at the Louvre with us. They are looking at the same table. But they’re on the side, looking at him from another angle. It is still a masterpiece. But they have a different point of view on it.
“That’s how I see it. They gave us a different way of looking at basketball: big ball stretch, spacing, ball movement. And now we’ve kind of adapted all the things they took from all of them their years of apprenticeship with American coaches.
“People like Hubie Brown, Chuck Daly and Dr. Jack [Ramsay] traveled the world 40 years ago teaching basketball. And they did such a good job that now in many ways the world is teaching us again. “
And so, Team USA’s 2021 losses against Nigeria (?!) And Australia before Argentina routed Tuesday night, all set in Las Vegas, don’t really bother me at all. Or Fraschilla (who worked color on the Nigerian shock for NBC Sports), for that matter. For various reasons.
On the one hand, the American team is full of players who have just finished an unusually late NBA season. They looked groggy the first two games for a reason.
On the other hand, they are properly equipped to fight in the international game this time around, loaded with perimeter shooters such as Damian Lillard and Kevin Durant who should eventually find the lineup.
For yet another, the rest of the world continues to gain ground. NBA veterans are now scattered on lists around the world. They are no longer afraid of Americans. So many people play with them all winter long.
And they are really good. The United States no longer dominates the development of the best players in the game. As pointed out by Fraschilla, Luka Dončić, Giannis Antetokounmpo and NBA MVP Nikola Jokić – this is three of the top five players in the league, such as voted by their colleagues – were born outside the United States:
“The guys who come [overseas] and the game made our NBA game better. Not just these three, but Danilo Gallinari, Goran Dragić, Bojan and Bogdan Bogdanović, who also come from two different countries. They have that team-driven approach to basketball that has rubbed off on the league. “
And that’s why we both love where the NBA is going more than where it has been. While I’m a little weary of the titled old-guard-league behavior of James and Durant and James Harden and Russell Westbrook, et al, I’m excited about the enthusiasm and inclusive style of the emerging American stars in the NBA. So many of them are dynamic guards, and so many more have a major impact at once: Trae Young, Jamal Murray, Donovan Mitchell, Ja Morant, Devin Booker, DéAaron Fox. They play smart, they play team ball and they all compete like they really want to win.
If you watched Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks last night fight 16 points earlier to take out the Booker’s Suns in Phoenix 123-119, you’ve seen an action-packed shooting extravaganza, a grueling go-and-go battle. comes in all facets that can feature among the great NBA Finals Game 5 of all time.
Not only has European team play infected Americans, but I think transatlantic positionless basketball has made American players more versatile. Suddenly you see tall, sluggish-footed academics who would normally have no chance of making it into the NBA – Luka Garza of Iowa comes to mind – developing passing, handling and long-range shooting skills though. skillful that they will have a serious look.
Fraschilla draws a line of direct influence on the euro majors, who have been ticking such boxes for decades:
“You go to any gym in Belgrade or Madrid, no matter your size, everyone works on the same basics of basketball. That’s why, as they’ve gotten used to coming to the States- United, international kids of all sizes can reasonably handle, pass and shoot, and that made our game better.
I totally agree. Who owns this game now? Everybody. Like football, it has become a global sport that everyone plays. You can thank the Dream Team in 1992 for helping to ignite a flame that became a worldwide inferno of interest in basketball.
So, will the USA win gold in Tokyo? These days, honestly, I don’t care. If a talented, united and dynamic team like Spain, France or Australia wins, so be it.
In today’s game, not only is everything possible, but everything is OK with me. Because sport at the highest level can only benefit. And finally, just like the Premier League in England, the world comes here to compete.
Basically, how awesome is that?
More PennLive sports coverage:
• A chat with Phil Steele, who predicts that Penn State will be the most improved team in all of college football.
• From ugly Nike uniforms to nonstop promotional glop, the MLB All-Star Game wasn’t about the game at all.
• A visit with great Sports Illustrated photographer James Drake, as he tries to commission his art in Twilight.