There were a couple of dynamics working at the USA Basketball exhibition game against Puerto Rico Saturday. Team USA had been in town all week working out at UNF and staying at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club. The morning practices had been open to the media (at least the last half hour) and the team members for the most part, had been incredibly cooperative. The guys who cover players like Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson on a regular basis had been shaking their heads all week at how laid back and forthcoming the players have been. Maybe that’s part of the deal when you agree to play for Team USA. You’re not an NBA superstar anymore, so talk to the media, and be nice. At one practice, assistant coach Greg Popovich stopped play and yelled, “Hey, forget that NBA stuff, this is the Olympics.
It’s a new theory, instead of pass and stand around, its pass and MOVE!” It is pretty funny to watch the coaching staff, Popovich, Roy Williams and Head Coach Larry Brown deal with the NBA superstars like they were college freshmen. Anyway, it’d had been a great week, and the Exhibition game was supposed to be the cap. But because they were late for a meeting, Brown suspended Iverson, James and Amare Stoudemire and didn’t let them play at all. Nobody knew that until the team arrived at the arena and the PA Announcer told everybody that the three had been suspended. Brown shot a nasty look at the press table, incredulous that the announcement would be made.
What did he expect?
The place was sold out, and people were paying top dollar to see Iverson and James play. They’ll play hundreds, maybe thousands more basketball games. They’ll be rock stars in their home towns and treated like gods when they play in Europe this coming week. But this was the one, the one chance for people in Jacksonville to see them play. It was their only appearance on US soil before heading to the Olympics. I’m big on discipline and following the rules, but there were plenty other punishments Larry Brown could have handed out to three NBA superstars to get his point across. Make’em run. Pay a fine. Humiliate them in front of the media. Don’t let them play against Montenegro for goodness sake. But put them in the game here in Jacksonville.
The only people punished were the fans in the stands, the ones who paid the money. The team, on the other hand, handled Puerto Rico with only two guards. They’re good when they run. When they run a half court game, they’re not a shooting team that can win against the other elite games on the International Stage. But when they run, they can win the Gold, no question.
The other thing going on was how Jacksonville handled the game. Having the team here was a big coup. Where else can they stay at the beach in a five star hotel, have a nice facility to work out in close by, and not be bothered. People in Jacksonville are pretty non plussed about celebrity athletes. They can walk around, have dinner, go to clubs, and people, generally, don’t make a big deal about it. Dean Smith and David Stern were among the visitors to Jacksonville to see the team. It was a big deal.
And the game should have been conducted as such.
Fanfare, celebration, an introduction fit for the magnitude of the game. Sure, it was an exhibition for everybody else, but it was THE game for Jacksonville. Where was the National Anthem? For both countries. I know there’s a tendency to overdo things in the NBA, but a little flourish, a little pizzazz couldn’t have hurt. And besides that, the concession lines were entirely too long. The Arena needs to make sure it’s a fan friendly experience, not a fan frustrating experience.
“I’m worried about our city,” my friend Dan told me at halftime. “If we can get this right, what are we going to do with the Super Bowl?” I haven’t worried about the Super Bowl because the NFL won’t let that fail, but the city’s run up hasn’t been impressive. We can do better, and we know it.