Everyone has to lose sometimes, even Americans.
Sports history was made on Wednesday and Thursday nights, when first Argentina and then Yugoslavia upset the United States at the World Basketball Championship in Indianapolis. While last night’s loss eliminated the Americans from the tournament, it was the 87-80 loss to Argentina that signaled a new era in global basketball.
It was merely a round-robin game in the second round that has little bearing on who comes away with the championship. But don’t be fooled by the lack of press this game is getting. Don’t think that because ESPN.com took the story off its main page just hours later that it’s not as important, if not wildly more important, than the start of the 2002 NFL season. Don’t believe NBA.com’s five reasons on why the upset “wasn’t that much of a surprise.” And especially don’t buy the excuses being given by various protectors of American basketball.
Argentina’s win was as legit as they come. The refs weren’t great, but they made bad calls both ways. Even if they were harder on Team USA, wouldn’t you be too if an embarrassed Jermaine O’Neal stepped on his opponent after having his dunk attempt cleanly blocked? Argentina was simply the better team. While Baron Davis stood around and Reggie Miller waited for screens, the Argentineans were physical on defense and chemical on offense. As Andre Miller forced up erratic floaters and Paul Pierce fired 30-foot jumpers with a man in his face, the Argentineans took it strong to the hole and found open men on the perimeter.
Would the same have happened if it were Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady donning the stars and stripes instead? Or if Shaq was manning the middle with Tim Duncan and Chris Webber by his side? Probably not, but who knows?
One can’t assume that the U.S. team — already a collection of NBA All-Stars — would have played any better with 12 super-sized egos on the team.
The very fact that the nation’s finest didn’t show up for this tournament, and that the players who did show up don’t play as a team, are weaknesses in American basketball just as athleticism and depth are its strengths. All of these — commitment, teamwork, athleticism, depth — are parts of what it takes to win, and you can only get by so long (10 years and 58 games, in Team USA’s case) on half of them.
That said, “Argentina 87, USA 80” is still shocking. Who would have thought this could happen just a decade after the Dream Team took the stage in the Barcelona Olympics?
The media has wisely toned down its coronation of U.S. basketball in recent years, but this year’s team still consists of a talent pool international programs do indeed dream about. Everyone knew the world was catching up, but such convincing evidence- Argentina led by up to 20 points during the game- is a truly impressive and historic feat.
Basketball, on a global level, is finally competitive, and true fans of the game –even Americans– should be excited.