Yo, Bubba Chuck - your ears ringing?
How 'bout you Tim Duncan? Feeling a sharp, knifelike pain in your back? Larry Brown, Roy Williams, Lamar Odom - any of you 2004 Olympians feel like you've just been kicked in the, uh, stomach?
Because you were. Dissed over and over and over and over again Monday, after the 2008 men's U.S. Olympic basketball team was announced. First the managing director, then the coach, then some players, all took broadsides at the eclectic mess of Athens 2004, which involved three debilitating losses and ended in a bronze medal for the nation where the game was invented.
"When we was young pups, we had the opportunity to sit and watch a team that wasn't a team," Dwyane Wade, one of the five holdovers from 2004, was saying after the team was announced Monday in Chicago. "Leaving Athens we said in 2008, we want to be respected as a team. And we want our country to be respected. The last three years Coach K and the staff have done an unbelievable job bringing that camaraderie together."
It's a good word, unbelievable, because the more Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski preached those team-first principles Monday, the more he sounded like the ones who came before. Certainly Brown, the 2004 coach, believes in team defense. And Duncan may be the polar opposite of a selfish player. Even Allen Iverson used the word "teammate" back then - at least more than he used the word "practice."
But they're empty words, Krzyzewski inferred Monday, if they come without the self-sacrifice and team building undertaken by USA Basketball since then, and particularly over the last two summers, when the core group that will represent the U.S. in Beijing won 23 of 24 games. "A key word for us throughout this whole process is respect," said Krzyzewski. "We respect the international game. For too long we've been saying it's just our game. But we're not playing the NBA game or the NCAA game. We're playing international basketball. It's really the world's game."
Krzyzewski has spent the bulk of his last three offseasons and part of his college seasons fashioning a team capable of playing that game. Role players like Tayshaun Prince and Michael Redd reflect that philosophy, as does an overall attitude among the stars on the team, even Kobe Bryant, whom Krzyzewski called "our best perimeter defender." As managing director Jerry Colangelo noted, 11 of the 12 have played with the team in international competition during the last two summers. As Krzyzewski noted, some played little or not at all in some games - without complaint.
As in 2004, the U.S. team has one true center, Dwight Howard. Power forwards and small forwards are interchangeable, Krzyzewski said Monday. Heck, the whole team, he said, with the exception of Howard, is interchangeable.
"The trapezoid lane reduces the amount of low-post play," said the Duke coach. "And that's another reason why our composition of the team is more of a speed perimeter ... We have a lot of versatility, where we could have LeBron (James), Carmelo (Anthony), Dwyane, Kobe on the court at the same time with Dwight Howard."