- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The quest to impose the basketball will of the United States on the rest of the world begins in earnest in Las Vegas today.

That is a fairly daunting order, considering the population numbers.

The rest of the world leads the United States 6.2 billion to 300 million, not counting the illegal aliens in our midst.

It takes only a couple of sharp-shooting Lithuanians to produce a scare.

Not that we have anything to fear from the Cambodian basketball team.

Of course, we might have voiced the same disregard for a potential opponent before the United States opened in humiliating fashion against Puerto Rico in the Athens Games in 2004.

The Americans lost to the Americans, however that works in the dollar-sporting eyes of the International Olympic Committee.

Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski are determined to change the NBA’s culture of indifference to international competitions, whether the world championship or the Olympics.

The indifference of all too many NBA players is understandable.

The risk is all theirs. The compensation is a medal, if that, destined to collect dust.

The players are obligated to David Stern’s operation for nearly nine months of the year if their team reaches the NBA Finals. Their loyalties are to their multimillion dollar contracts.

The 82-game schedule is uncompromising to the body, young and old alike. Rest is necessary in the offseason. So is surgery on occasion, as Kobe Bryant recently discovered. So, too, are matters left unattended in the winter months, whether family or the business of endorsements.

These considerations are lost on Gilbert Arenas, who possibly would be looking for a pick-up game in Southeast today if he were not endeavoring to earn a spot on the U.S. team.

His humble vow to sweep the locker room floor and drive the team bus in pursuit of a roster spot is an attitude that moves the spirit of Colangelo and Krzyzewski following the disappointment associated with USA Basketball’s last two efforts.

The egotists of 2004 neglected much of the business on the floor, and that included Larry Brown, the biggest egotist of them all.

Not too long ago, the act of pulling together the best collegians was easy on everyone until the rest of world stopped playing the Washington Generals to our Harlem Globetrotters.

Now here we are again, with a new system, mind-set and rallying cry.

USA Basketball wants everyone to give it the good, old college try, and the governing body has solicited the services of the head college guy to make the fairytale come true.

Even so, it remains hard to work up a whole lot of us vs. them passion because the best of the rest of the world already is playing in the NBA, starting with Dirk, Nash and Yao.

We even have come to understand the dramatic tumbles of Manu Ginobili following the World Cup.

Soccer players routinely fell to the ground in extreme agony, writhing on the grass as if all kinds of dastardly acts had been committed against them before, miraculously, in an instant, rising to their feet and going about their aerobic activities as if nothing had happened.

This explains the Oscar-worthy performances of Ginobili, if not the inner-ear infection that limited Vlade Divac’s capacity to stand upright throughout his career.

See how it has changed?

We know the opposition almost as well as we now know our own, as the rest of the world continues to outsource its most impressive pituitary glands to the United States.

Here are the last three acquisitions of the Wizards: Ukrainian, Belarusian and Lithuanian.

Animosity came a lot of easier in the days of the Cold War. The U.S. loss to the Soviets in 1972 remains perhaps the biggest robbery ever in sports.

It was so over the top — the million second chances and the million meetings of dim minds — that you are certain the United Nations was behind it.

There’s no way to reproduce that fervor in today’s basketball marketplace.

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