- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

The NBA players in red, white and blue have been talking of wake-up calls in recent weeks.

The Italy game was a wake-up call, then the Germany game was a wake-up call, and now the 19-point loss to Puerto Rico yesterday in the opening game of the Olympics is the biggest wake-up call yet.

This is a bad case of institutional amnesia, for the wake-up call was delivered four years ago in Sydney, where we barely survived Lithuania en route to the gold medal.

As if to confirm the rest of the world’s basketball evolution, we finished sixth in the world championship two years ago in Indianapolis.

The Puerto Rico game was no wake-up call, no fluke. If it had not been Puerto Rico, it would have been another international team taking down the big, bad men from the NBA. We were determined to lose in Athens, and we have been working on it for four years, starting with our failure to recognize the validity of international basketball.

The NBA players are living in the world of 1992, of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird and the original Dream Team. They cling to the illusion that the rest of the world remains in awe of them and that all they have to do is show up, work up a small sweat and return to their hotel suites with a 25-point victory.

That is the implication of the “wake-up call.” It suggests that if the NBA players come out with conviction, the rest of the world will go into the fetal position and the gold medal will be forever ours.

Another news flash to Larry Brown and the NBA: There is more to the game than rebounding and defense. Brown utters the words “rebounding and defense,” as if someone just has pulled the cord coming out of his chest and he is a talking doll.

It is true that Brown won the NBA championship in June with that focus. It also is true he won it after rising to the top of a suspect conference and then going against a beat-up team that was looking to implode.

A team does not pitch a shutout in basketball. At some point, a team has to make shots, and in international competition, that usually means making a high percentage of shots from the perimeter.

We no longer emphasize outside shooting in the United States. We pay lip service to it.

We embrace the dribble-happy, drive-the-lane, triple-pump types. We celebrate the dunk artists. We prefer flash to substance. We almost turn our noses up at jump shooters.

Reggie Miller was accused of being soft during a good portion of a career that will end up with his induction into the Hall of Fame. He was hardly soft. He was just a great shooter. For Miller, an 18-footer was a higher percentage shot than trying to challenge a 7-footer.

Many of the Europeans coming into the NBA are not unlike Miller. They are competent shooters from the perimeter because of the packed-in international game. Who is Dirk Nowitzki but a taller version of Miller?

American players are taught not to “settle” for a jump shot, as if a jump shot is prissy, as if putting your head down and barreling to the basket to take on three defenders is smart.

The NBA players appeared stuck in the throes of antithetical philosophies against Puerto Rico. Their inclination was to take the ball to the basket, no matter how crowded it was. Yet they could not help notice how free and easy it was beyond the 3-point line.

Puerto Rico essentially conceded the 3-point shot attempt to the United States, as the rest of the competition is expected to do. The U.S. team endured a 3-for-24 shooting performance from the 3-point line.

There is not a pure shooter on the roster. There are scorers, notably Allen Iverson, but no one to expose a zone defense on a consistent basis.

So Tim Duncan draws a crowd near the basket, and his teammates draw iron. It is not about who we have or do not have on our team in Athens. It is about our hubris and the way we view the game.

Our view is one-dimensional, as the whipping from our itty-bitty commonwealth reveals.

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