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Population of Puerto Rico: 3,889, 507
Population of United States: A whole lot more
Points scored by Puerto Rico vs. U.S. yesterday: 92
Points scored by U.S.: A whole lot less (73 to be exact).
I'd like to think that this latest international basketball loss is all part of some globalization scheme concocted by David Stern and designed to bring parity to the world hoops scene. But then, I'd like to believe a lot of things (for example, that pressing that little "Walk" button really does make the traffic light change faster). Really, though, it's not surprising anymore.
It wasn't surprising two summers ago, when George Karl crashlanded the U.S. squad to a sixth-place finish at the Worlds. And it won't be surprising if this U.S. team gets a silver, a bronze or, worse, doesn't medal. Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Lamar Odom and the All-Rookie team -- seasoned with all of two weeks of practice - is just not good enough to consistently win against veteran international teams stocked with good shooters. And, all hand-wringing aside, that is not such a bad thing. Maybe it will make the American superstars more grateful and gracious. Maybe it will make more young U.S. players focus on shooting and passing, two skills the Not-so-Dreamy Team could stand to improve. And maybe -- though this could be too much to ask -- it will inspire Iverson to show up on time to practice.
The last time I wrote in this space, it was hot on the heels of the U.S.'s first unexpected loss, to Italy. In response, many of you wrote in, taking advantage of the new mailbag feature (below) that enables the masses -- or, perhaps more accurately, the procrastinating-at-work-and-already-checked-ESPN.com -- to provide feedback.
Among the responses, there were many impassioned critiques of the team. Dwight Hunt of Dalton, Ga., lamented the "franchise player syndrome of the NBA," targeting Iverson in particular, and wrote, "Didn't we learn anything from the Pistons' TEAM win this year?" A couple readers, including Stewart from Lexington, Ky., and Dan Greenstone from Chicago (who, incidentally, once played a mean shooting guard for Haverford College in Pa.), suggested that the U.S. should have just sent the Pistons instead. The stumbling block here is that Ben Wallace and Rip Hamilton were asked this year and declined to go, but Greenstone thinks that could have been overcome. "The Pistons organization would benefit immensely from the global exposure, and I bet the players would have agreed to do it if they could play for Larry Brown as a team. And to sweeten the deal, the league could have worked out a scheme where Detroit got to start camp later, and could play a lighter slate of preseason games. They could use it as a sort of mini-camp." It's a good idea, and the Pistons are a good choice, not just because they are champions, but because their entire starting five is American (the only international Pistons were Darko Milicic and MehmetOkur, who is now gone). Still, it would be a hard sell to both the team and the rest of the NBA (who would surely claim it gave Detroit a leg up).
Have a question or opinion for Chris? He might answer or address it in his next blog.
Other readers provided equally impassioned critiques of my critique of the U.S. team. My favorite came from Rico in Baltimore, who kindly reminded me of my role as a journalist by writing, "You idiot! Why don't you have faith in the team instead of highly criticizing them."
Another fun letter came from someone named Force, who wrote in from Munich. Force began by writing, "Never read so much bull---- in a basketball article before" and then noted, very accurately I might add, that "Your problem is, and will forever persist, arrogance."
Force then launched into a very long, very forceful defense of the German national team which, incidentally, I did not write about. He championed the play of Steffen Hamann, the German point guard. He finished by writing, "You may even some day recognize that the LA Lakers are just a North American club team, and never have and never will be 'Champion of the World.' That's Serbia-Montenegro. Your readers may even recognize that country -- you bombed it a couple of years ago."
Umm, not sure if that is relevant, but I won't touch that one. Or make a gratuitous Yoda joke.
More mailbag stuff ...
The award for Question Least Related to the Topic of the Blog goes to Dexonal Lensol from South Africa, who, after reading about the U.S. Basketball team, asked, "Do you think that Patrick Viera will leave Arsenal to Real Madrid even though registration for the Champions League is closed?"
Good question Dexonal! The answer comes courtesy of my wife, who happens to be sitting next to me while I write this. She says,"I have no idea. I don't even know who those people are." Hope that helps, Dexonal.
The Inside Dirt award goes to Drew in Baltimore. Drew writes, "Why do NBA players expect to have good images when something like this happens: Sam Cassell, star player with a fat paycheck, managed to squeeze a $2 tip out on his $80 check at the high-class Baltimore restaurant I worked at today. You can take the baller out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the baller."
Even though this is only a blog, here at SI we believe in fair journalism, so this morning I left an interview request with the Minnesota Timberwolves, in hopes of getting Cassell's side of the story. If he responds, look for it the next time I write in this space.
With reference to my mention of the DR mower in the last blog, Owen from North Carolina wrote in, "The DR reference was priceless. Laughed out loud, if only because my Dad has one of those things and loves the hell out of it. He uses the DR to clean out the swale between the driveway and the road at my folks' place. The best is when Dad comes striding through the kitchen, with all kinds of atomized grass and vegetation and s--- suspended in his forearm hair (think of a couple of hairy canned hams. There you go). Then he goes upstairs, sits down at the computer for a full 30 minutes to read e-mail and watch the Braves before showering. Like a badge of courage."
Last week, I mentioned the old Atlanta cheer "Go Falcons...And Take the Braves with you." I also asked whether any readers had their own favorite team put-downs. Among those who wrote in, Michael Sweeney of Chicago mentioned his favorite Bears joke from the "seemingly interminable Wannstedt-Jauron years." It went: "Why doesn't Iowa have a professional football team? Because then Illinois would want one too."
Brady Snyder of New Columbia, Pa., "a lifelong Philly fan," lived up to his hometown affiliation by writing about the most memorable jeer he'd heard at an Eagles game. "When Michael Irvin was hurt and lying motionless on the field, a man a few rows behind me stood up and yelled, 'Hey Irvin, why don't you sniff the line while you're down there.' ... Memorable."
Not only memorable Brady, but classy. Very classy.
Speaking of Philly, I wrote about the city's masochistic bent in this space a while back. (I believe the very subtle headline affixed by the SI.com editors was Why Philadelphians Hate Themselves.) Anyway, I was back down in the city of Brotherly Heckle over the weekend and was reading the Inquirer Sunday sports section when I came upon a letter from a Phils fan writing in with regards to a suggestion -- and I know it is hard to believe this idea came out of that city -- that the Phillies be deported. "I'm not shipping them out," wrote a Mr. John P. Hegarty of Downingtown, swooping to the defense of his team. Here it was, I thought, the elusive glass-is-half-full Phillies fan, a true believer. My faith was restored.
Until the next sentence, that is, when Mr. Hegarty continued by writing of the Phils, "I think we need them here so we have somebody to kick around while the Flyers and Sixers are recuperating." Then he proposed renaming the team 'the Zits," because "we all know how frustrating zits can be and how they always seem to pop out just before the big dance." This change of nickname would also, he noted, solve the issue of what to call Citizens Bank ballpark. It would be Zitizens Bank park, or 'the Zit" for short. The name would be apt, Mr. Hegarty, wrote because, "We get creamed here every night just before bedtime."