- The Washington Times - Friday, July 4, 2003

America is no longer the big, bad wolf in basketball.

The rest of the world has invested itself in the game since the global celebration of the Dream Team in 1992, embraced the essential elements of it and is now turning out an impressive number of fundamentally sound players.

The fundamentally sound player is the fundamental distinction between them and us.

The rest of the world is turning out basketball players. America is turning out too many halftime entertainment performers.

The rest of the world emphasizes the various skills of the game. America emphasizes the highlight clips, the fancy dunks and stupid dribbling tricks.

The rest of the world is producing a back-to-the-future player, America a player who can appear on television in a shoe commercial.

The back-to-the-future player can dribble the ball, shoot the ball, rebound the ball, see the floor, box out on defense, set a pick, run the offense, provide help on defense and assimilate the notion that he is only as competent as the other four players on the court. He is apt to be playing a version of the American game from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

America’s game today is to designate one principal scorer, encourage him to massage the ball and instruct the other four players to stand in place or go to the concession stand and have a hot dog.

Can anyone really enjoy what the Celtics have become, from the poetry of Bird, McHale, Parish, Ainge and D.J. in the ‘80s to the motionless, no-brain, one-dimensional 3-point launchings of Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker today?

The 3-point shot functions best as a measured weapon instead of the basis of an offense.

Ding, ding, ding. Is anyone home in Boston?

The 3-point shot appears to go with the obsessive-compulsive dribbling.

Too many American players have become serial dribblers. They dribble, dribble, dribble, and then they dribble some more. They don’t need a coach. They need professional help.

These poor souls probably can’t leave home without pulling on their front door knob several hundred times to make certain it is locked. It is sad, so sad.

If being able to dribble the ball with your nose hair resulted in points, America would be unbeatable.

We lead the world in players who can dribble with their ears and toenails, who can juggle four basketballs at once while pretending to be the toughest man ever.

Alas, striking a pose has become essential to the American cause, even if most basketball players fight like sorority sisters.

It must be the Eminem dynamic. The rest of the world obviously missed this memo.

The rest of the world comes to play basketball. We come to jump real high, dunk the ball and then beat on our chest.

We fall in love with Darius Miles and DeShawn Stevenson because of their jumping ability, which would be wonderful if they were competing in the high jump instead of clanking another 15-footer off the rim.

This is just the way it is.

America’s long run at the top in basketball is in its concluding stages, about to be relegated to the dustbin of history with the peach basket. There is no sense debating it. There is no sense crying about it, although crying is an acceptable response in basketball.

Crying is universal.

You have Vlade Divac’s scrunched-up mug as proof.

He is an old Serbian, the precursor to the flood of immigrants coming to the NBA.

If you recall, Divac’s Yugoslavian basketball team won the World Championship in Indianapolis last summer.

We were there, George Karl and the NBA guys, with home-country advantage. You remember? The U.S. finished in sixth place after dropping a nail-biter to Spain in the consolation round.

Just think: If we had not gone cold from the floor in the fourth quarter against Spain, we could have taken fifth place

Well, right. Shaq did not play. Kobe did not play. Jason Kidd did not play. You are missing the point.

We whined in 1988, too, following the disappointment of John Thompson’s collegiate team at the Seoul Games. We whined about who wasn’t there, notably the best of the best from the NBA.

So Magic, Bird and Jordan restored our basketball honor in 1992, the rest of the world took notes, we fell in love with track and field athletes impersonating basketball players, and the gap between them and us has been closed in incremental fashion, to the point that the gap, if there is one, is imperceptible.

We’re no sure thing to claim the gold medal in Athens next year. We barely completed the assignment in Sydney in 2000 after Lithuania pushed us to the brink. That’s right. Little old Lithuania nearly punctured our illusion in a way the 2002 World Championship could not.

We pay attention to the Olympics. Let’s be honest: We do not really get too worked up over FIBA, which sounds more like the name of a poodle than a governing body.

But no matter.

Perhaps it is impolite to notice that the foreigners are coming, the foreigners are coming.

The Russians, too.

Twenty-one of the 58 selections in the NBA Draft last week need a green card. A cursory offseason check of the 29 NBA rosters finds the foreign element to be around 15 percent, a steady upward climb that is only going to increase in the years ahead.

The European pro leagues are the new training ground of the NBA, becoming a far more reliable source of talent than the leftovers filling the NCAA ranks.

On one level, it is about simple numbers. There are so many more of them than us, 6 billion-plus vs. the 283 million on these shores.

On another level, it is about the NCAA suits who patrol the sidelines in college. They take the easy recruiting way out: size and athleticism, athleticism and size. You can spot that one player in an instant. Finding the one basketball player in a gymnasium is considerably more difficult.

The colleges don’t pay the cutting-edge suits to find basketball players, or even to develop the talent in their midst. The new generation is there, in effect, to sell cars, to look good, to sound good, to be a mini-Rick Pitino. It is all about the hair gel and sound bite these days.

If it were possible to clone the 41-year-old John Stockton of diminishing returns and stick his 18-year-old version in a high school gym today, the slick-haired types possibly would see a Division III prospect. Stockton might not even rate a look from Gonzaga.

The rest of the world, in being relatively new to all this high-stakes stuff, is not burdened with these preconceived notions or working from a tired how-to manual.

Dirk Nowitzki is one result. The blond-haired German is as unique as Magic Johnson once was.

Nowitzki is the 7-footer with unthinkable perimeter skills, the same as Johnson was an unthinkable 6-9 point guard.

Nowitzki’s emergence is emblematic of the global march.

In 20 years, Germany has evolved from Uwe Blab to Detlef Schrempf to Nowitzki.

It is a good thing Nowitzki did not come up in America. He probably would be just a better version of Greg Ostertag instead of one of the top five players in the NBA.

That is the thing about the rest of the world. The rest of the world sees the game differently, plays it differently and thinks it differently. The rest of the word is challenging our basketball conventions.

It just so happens that Don Nelson, a smart but unconventional coach by American standards, has shown himself to be adaptable to the United Nations quality of his roster.

There is no stopping the foreign invasion now, the outcome as predictable as it was with Major League Baseball, only more so because of basketball’s greater penetration around the globe.

Look around to see who’s treading on the turf of Shaq and Kobe, the No.1 and No.1A players, respectively, in the NBA.

Yao Ming, who has some Hakeem Olajuwon in him, is perhaps the future.

Go, Yao.

This is no time to be provincial.

We’re No.6 anyway.

Everyone, now: We’re No.6. We’re No.6. We’re No.6.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide