Five-ring Circus

The 2004 Olympics

A dialogue on the U.S.-Puerto Rico basketball game.

Josh Levin: Hey Robert, it’s not really a surprise the U.S. finally lost an Olympic basketball game in the Dream Team era. It is surprising that they didn’t lose because the best NBA players refused to go to Athens or because of insufficient pre-games practice time. Nope, the only reason the Americans were blown out 92-73 is the lack of political will for Puerto Rico statehood. If those bureaucrats in Washington had noticed the nation’s severe point guard deficit, Carlos Arroyo wouldn’t have wriggled through the U.S. defense for 24 points, then pointed proudly to “Puerto Rico” on his jersey as he walked off the court. Let’s start up the chant: “That’s all right, that’s OK, you’ll be playing for us someday!” So, what do you make of the Americans getting knocked around by a fake country?

Robert Weintraub: Josh, now that the U.S. is getting whipped by commonwealths, it’ll be ugly when they play a legit nation-state like Argentina. Since the doctrine of pre-emptive war has been established, we should just invade South America and smuggle out Manu Ginobili. He was brilliant against Serbia and Montenegro, scoring 27 points and winning the game with a last-second, leaping bank shot. It’s hard to see how we can beat Argentina, Serbia—even Spain and Pau Gasol. Serbia was clearly playing possum in last week’s exhibition, which the U.S. won by 18 points. The Serbians played man-to-man that day, but that won’t happen in Athens. At this point, I’m just hoping the U.S. advances to the medal round.

JL: I really hope the U.S. wins gold, if only for the sanity of NBC color man Doug Collins. Sure, it was depressing that the Dream Team looked worse than the Cream Team—Angola lost to Lithuania by only five—but the misery of watching the U.S. miss shot after shot was nothing compared to Collins’ tortured commentary. After play-by-play man Mike Breen said that no NBA player wants an Olympic loss on his resume, Collins responded glumly, “I have it on my resume.” In the gold-medal game of the 1972 Olympics, Collins’ clutch free throws put the U.S. up by one with seconds left. Then, the Soviet Union came back to win after the most improbable, ludicrous ending sequence in basketball history. As the clock wound down today, the former Bulls and Pistons coach had darker and darker flashbacks to the early 1970s. “You’re telling me that we cannot make a jump shot from 20 feet?” he screeched, sounding personally assaulted by the U.S. team’s poor outside shooting. Later he muttered, “One game can be like a stake right through your heart.” What do you think Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, et al. can do to keep Doug from weeping openly on air?

RW: Sadly, we have no guys like Collins who can make a jumper—even the almighty Duncan can’t hit a layup with four guys around him, as we saw against P.R. It was sad to hear Iverson say the U.S. lost because they didn’t get enough fast-break chances. He doesn’t seem to realize that Frederic Weis isn’t out there to act as a slam-dunk-contest prop. Instead of going for steals and looking for outlet passes, the Americans need to start acting like thugs. While the U.S. team looks comically ill-prepared for the foreign game, they can still take advantage of the lack of a third referee in international play. Since there aren’t enough eyes on the court, physical play gets a pass in the Olympics. That’s why our only hope is to goon it up. Call in Charles Oakley, Dennis Rodman, and Bull from Fast Break—anyone who will knock some heads and let the world know the lane is off limits, even if it is shaped like a trapezoid.