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the dream the team redeemed

Discussion in 'Sports and News' started by Starman, Aug 24, 2008.

  1. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    "Citius, Altius, Fortius."
    "Swifter, Higher, Stronger."

    Those three words are the official motto of the Olympic Games, a competition created to provide a venue for the greatest athletes in the world to perform their sports at the ultimate level of human capability.
    There was a dream once, that athletic teams could be assembled to accomplish this goal, to raise the level of performance to something never seen before in the history of the sport. To become the Starship Enterprise of athletic performance, to boldly go where no one had gone before.
    That dream became a possibility when the antiquitated and outmoded elitist concepts of "amateurism" were swept away in the late 1980s and early 1990s, kicking open the doors of international athletic competition and allowing the most accomplished athletes in most sports to participate in the highest level of worldwide competition.

    "My practices aren't designed for your enjoyment."
    -- Coach Norman Dale, 'Hoosiers'

    Unfortunately for Norman Dale and his spiritual disciples, in fact the game of basketball (and all athletic competition in its own way, but that's a whole other discussion), is indeed supposed to be fun.
    To run, and run, and run until your legs burn, and then run some more, because you know you can.
    To jump, to reach for the rafters, to haul down a rebound with a resounding smack, to dive across the floor to snare a loose ball, and then fire it downcourt to a speeding teammate in full stride for a layup or a dunk.
    To fire in shots when you see daylight, to snap passes to cutting teammates when you know without looking they're going to be there.
    To pound and press on defense, to bump bodies, to anticipate passes, to make the steal, to block the shot, to see the look of exhaustion and hopelessness in the opponent's eyes when they know they simply can't keep up with you any more.
    To come off the bench fresh and fast, slap hands with your teammate coming off for a quick rest, knowing once he gets it, he's going to come back in the game with new energy, too. And to see that look in the opponents' eyes again, even more hopeless.
    That's what basketball is supposed to be about, and yes indeed it is supposed to be fun. It's also hard work, a lot of work to do it right, but it's the kind of work that feels damn good when you peel off that sweaty jersey, throw it on the floor, and step into the hot shower and know you left everything out on the court that day.
    Of course, it's fun to win, and if you do all that stuff more effectively than your opponent, you will.

    But even if you don't -- even if the opponent simply is better than you, and on that particular day, they did some of those things (or all of them) better than you -- if you did all these things to the limits of your ability, you could walk off the court feeling good about yourself. Anybody who's ever played or coached the game on any kind of well-organized level knows these things.
    It doesn't mean taking selfish shots, playing wildly or out of control. It means playing without fear, being committed to making good things happen, to force your opponent to be better at actually playing basketball than you.
    But sometime in the last couple of decades, all of that got lost. Maybe it was watching the movie too many times, hearing Norman Dale pontificate about how his practices weren't supposed to be fun.
    Maybe it was listening to the endless parade of (mostly-failed) former coaches rambling on TV in morality monologues about "fundamentals," "discipline" and "the right way to play."
    Maybe it was the media-fueled mythology that playing an uptempo game was "selfish," "egotistical," that taking any sort of active enjoyment out of playing the game was lazy and immature, or, more often, the dreaded "streetball" mindset (with all the racial and ethnic stereotyping that entails).
    Somewhere along the line, conventional wisdom developed that there was one, and only one, "right way to play," and basically, that "right way to play" involved playing as little actual basketball as possible.
    The "right way to play," it was drummed into us again and again and again, involved controlling everything, controlling the pace of the game, shortening the game, taking a shot only when there was virtually no alternative -- either when you got a layup, a wide-open 3-pointer, or the shot clock was running out.
    Ironically, the shot clock, which was originally intended to be a device to speed up the game, became a vehicle for strangling it, as control-freak coaches stood on the sideline waving their clipboards and screeching at their players to use up the whole shot clock, to milk it down to the final second, to never take a shot until they essentially had to.
    A bonus to this controlled, stall-ball style is that it kept the scores of games low and close, minimized differences in actual basketball ability, essentially boiled games down to a very limited number of possessions near the end when presumably a genius coach could call a strategic time out and diagram a brilliant last-second play to win the game.
    So the game of basketball devolved into an exercise in sludge; on offense, a tedious stand-around exercise in stall-ball, and on defense, a sumo-wrestling festival of clutch-and-grabbing under the hoop.
    This basically developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s and spread across the sport as copycat coaches fell all over each other trying to "play the right way."
    And thus, one particular opinion of what was "the right way to play" became the absolute gospel, and anyone deviating from that mantra was branded as a dangerous heretic, delusional, lazy, selfish, greedy, egocentric, fundamentally unsound and all those horrible things. Scores dove across the sport, from the NBA all the way down into biddy basketball in the grade schools.
    And it became a game of fear: fear of taking a bad shot, fear of making a bad pass, fear of taking a chance on defense which would bring Capt. Clipboard leaping up off of the bench and yanking you out of the game. Fear suffocated the game.
    While in the NBA of the 1970s and 1980s, scoring 100, 110, even 120 points was not uncommon, in the 1990s and 2000s, it became more and more of a rarity. Games in the 80s and 70s became the norm. College teams, which used to score in the 70s and 80s, dragged down into the 60s. High school games under 50 points became routine.
    Well, "the right way to play" certainly CAN be the right way to play, and certainly often is, if your team is built in such a way to capitalize on that style. Taking good shots, minimizing turnovers and playing solid defense is hardly an original concept of how to win basketball games.
    And the coaches who continually harp on it didn't exactly invent anything new (despite their continual self-promotional efforts to convince everyone otherwise); all this stuff was basically invented about three minutes after James Naismith hung up the first peach baskets.
    All of this came to a head in Athens in 2004. Coaching the U.S. men's Olympic team was none other than Larry Brown, the Jedi Master of "playing the right way." He had a roster of players, selected in large part with his own input, who as it developed were not exactly suited to "play the right way" as Brown intended them to.
    They were better at other things: running, jumping, shooting, all that fundamentally-unsound stuff. Basically, all the fun stuff involved in playing basketball.
    It became apparent fairly quickly the team was not really suited to "play the right way," and there would not be enough time to teach them to (playing that style does require a considerable amount of time to develop; you can't just walk on the court and do it), so rather than figure out how to win with the talent he had, Larry Brown set out to inform the world that it wasn't his fault (maybe he had a job offer from Outer Dogfoodslovakia in his pocket, who knows).
    Press conferences became passive-aggressive performance art, when the hangdog Brown would come out (even after wins) and mournfully mumble to the assembled media that it was just a darn shame that no matter how he tried he couldn't get through to these selfish egotistical players how to "play the right way," how it was just a darn shame he didn't have all the players on the roster he had asked for, how the players obviously had been poorly coached earlier in their careers, how nice it would be to have this guy, that guy and some other guy, and of course it was certainly not HIS fault if the team lost, as it was certainly likely to (and of course it eventually did, several times, responding in entirely predictable fashion to such sterling leadership from its courageous mentor).
    The media, mostly conditioned over the last couple of decades to swallow down the conventional wisdom of "the right way to play," for the most part gobbled it up, throwing in some not-really-very-subtly-disguised references to "tattooed, dreadlocked, hip-hop" players like LeBron James, Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony as exemplifying this selfish, egocentrical mind-set the hardworking stickler on fundamentals BroWn was trying to dispel.
    One guy who did NOT gobble it up was NBA Commissioner David Stern, who had been fighting a continual battle to get the NBA's leading players to actually participate in the Olympics and other international competitions.
    After playing 100 or more games in an NBA regular season and playoffs, playing another couple of months in the summertime for a national team was a sacrifice in time and effort many players were not willing to make. And this public exercise in scapegoating and humilation by Larry Brown was not making it any easier to attract prospective players in the future.

    In addition to the time and effort involved in the team, what the hell was the payoff, if all you were going to get was a public lynching from your head coach?

    But maybe it took a nightmare to produce the redemption of the dream.

    The top movers in USA Basketball decided that in 2008 they could not afford a replay of 2004, that new leadership for the program was needed, leadership which would respect, support and appreciate the players, leadership which would take the talent of the players on the roster and figure out some way to win, not whimper and whine about the players who didn't play.
    It turns out the roster of the 2008 team for the most part is good at all those things which are fun about playing basketball: running, jumping, shooting, dunking, playing aggressive defense, pushing the ball upcourt, PLAYING BASKETBALL rather than not playing basketball in somebody's hidebound concept of "the right way to play."
    Mike Krzyzewski, who was used to coaching teams with lots of talent at Duke, has been almost flawless, allowing the players to play an uptempo style to maximize those talents, and for the most part, the players have responded enthusiastically, playing harder and tougher, more unselfishly, than any team since the legendary 1992 grouping of Jordan, Bird and Magic.
    The fear is gone, and the fun is back. There's another "right way to play."
    Of course the team hasn't been perfect all the time; no team could be, including the storied Dream Team (which wasn't).

    They weren't perfect this morning against Spain.

    But there have been moments, sometime considerable stretches, when James, Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and the rest of the U.S. team have approached this level, when the ball has zipped downcourt like a rocket, when every shot seems to go in, when every rebound and loose ball is grabbed, when the scoreboard simply seems to blink into oblivion, when the margin of the game becomes irrelevant, when they truly go where no team has gone before.
    And that's the dream this team redeemed.

    "For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside, that it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive"
    -- "Badlands," Bruce Springsteen

    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 15, 2014
  2. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    Maybe Colangelo can take over the US Track and boxing programs.
  3. Football_Bat

    Football_Bat Well-Known Member

  4. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Good to know all that Starman fury -- even during blowout victories by this team, when it wasn't as necessary -- over "the right way to play" could ultimately produce such an epic post as this.

    You captured the spirit of the thing. Well done.
  5. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member

    So they put Kobe, Lebron James, and Dwyane Wade on the team and beat everyone.

    Wow. Geniuses at work.
  6. broadway joe

    broadway joe Guest

    In other words, damned if they do, damned if they don't.
  7. 93Devil

    93Devil Well-Known Member

    Very interesting post, but I think focusing on showing players what is the "wrong way to play" is more important than the "right way to play."

    Dribbling against a zone press, feeding the low post from the top of the key, shooting with a hand in your face, shooting a jumpshot before a pass is even made on offense, not getting the ball inside for 4-5 straight possessions, overplaying on defense and being out of position, not trying to block everyshot but alter it instead, not boxing out when rebounding, not making the extra pass against the zone and losing track of your man on defense are all signs of the ways not to play the game.

    This team has shown that you can have a good time playing basketball, but still play smart basketball.

    Starman, I do disagree with the entire Norman Dale slant. Look at UNC, Duke, Kansas and the other top college teams or look at the Suns, they are not slow down teams.

    Usually you play the Norman Dale style when you are outmanned. He gave up a lot of that style when Chitwood started playing ball.
  8. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member

    Don't even know what that means.

    They put the best players in the world on the team and used them. That's why they won, not because Coach K got them to believe in team unity or Jerry Colangelo picked the best character guys he could.
  9. zagoshe

    zagoshe Well-Known Member

    Thy won because the U.S. HAS the best basketball players in the world, plays the best basketball in the world and for the first time in a few years, gave a damn about this silly international exhibition.

    Like I have said 1000 times -- the rest of the world has NOT caught up to the United States in hoops, despite the ridiculous crap spewed by the Brian Griffin's (I notice his absence throughout this two week woodshed stomping of Eurotrash's hopes and dreams by us) of this world would and would love to believe.

    And I'll say it again -- any time the United States gives a damn we will win the gold medal. That's especially true now that we're putting together a team for more than three weeks.

    And more importantly for all of the nonsense about how Eurotrash plays a better brand of OUR game -- if you read anything about it at all you'll discover many Eurotrash leagues are considering ditching the international rules and lane and going to a game that is more like the NBA's.

    If that happens -- if they took the NBA rules into the Olympics -- we'd never lose another game ever again. As it is, the only way we'll lose is, as I said before, we don't give a damn about winning it.
  10. JR

    JR Active Member

    Congrats to the US. They played one helluva game.

    It's not as if the Spaniards were chopped liver. however.

    The US basketball team reminded me of any Canadian Olympic/World Junior/World Championship hockey team----they checked their egos at the door and played as a team. What's all the fuss?
  11. Herbert Anchovy

    Herbert Anchovy Active Member

  12. broadway joe

    broadway joe Guest

    It means when they lose they get vilified and when they win people like you say "Big deal, they ought to win." It's not as simple as putting our stars out there and rolling out the ball, or haven't you been paying attention to the U.S. getting its ass beat in international competition lately? To say that it's as simple as putting our best players out there is to diminish both what the U.S. did and the caliber of its competition.
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