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Before we all go off to check whether James Naismith was actually a Serb or to investigate Red Auerbach's Argentine lineage, we need to understand that Team Iverson's loss to Italy in an exhibition game was not the end of American basketball as we know it. It simply means that Commissioner David Stern's master plan is continuing apace, and the NBA's quest for world domination is on schedule. Let the NFL have this continent. Stern wants the whole globe.
And he might just get it some day. For now, however, he'll have to be content with the Olympic gold medal. Because there is no way -- NO WAY, DO YOU HEAR ME? -- Uncle Sam is going down in Athens. Even if the NBA crème is fleeing to safety, vacationing, rehabbing or girding for trial, AI, TD and the fellas have more than enough to take care of the Eurothreats, the South American posers and the Asian pretenders. Will it get a little hairy? You betcha. But in the end, Iverson will be able to tattoo a medal replica on his chest, and Larry "the right way" Brown will be the first head coach to collect the holy trinity of coaching honors (NCAA, NBA, Olympic).
It won't be easy, not with Lithuania's alphabet-soup roster on the schedule in preliminary play, and the Argentines, Spaniards and Serbs/Montenegrins lurking in the medal rounds. But let's be serious. Do you think a motivated, well-prepared collection of NBA stars -- even if many are second-tier playas -- will lose to the likes of China? This isn't John Thompson at the helm here, exercising a criminal unwillingness to put a single offensive threat on the execrable 1988 U.S. team, a sin which led directly to the Dream Team's creation. This is a damn good squad, one which realizes that playing Germany in Cologne before the Olympics is the equivalent of a February visit to the Hawks. Once they lace 'em up for real, you'll see a highly-motivated club capable of propagating Uncle David's global message and whipping anybody who dares to stand in its way.
Just for fun, though, let's look at the field.
Puerto Rico, Angola, The Clippers, New Zealand: Do you believe in miracles? No!!!
China: Oooohh, it's the "Great Wall." The Chinese front line of Yao Ming and Mengke Bateer is big. It also moves about as quickly as the 1,500-mile fixture for which it is named.
Italy: Hope you enjoyed your exhibition win guys, because the U.S. will get medieval on you in a rematch.
Australia:Shane Heal is dangerous, but Chris Anstey couldn't stick on an NBA roster -- despite being seven feet tall and white.
Spain:Pau Gasol and Raul Lopez will put up great numbers, but expect Gasol to take a protracted siesta once things get a little rugged.
Argentina: These guys made the U.S. look silly two years ago in Indianapolis. Then again, that American club had Antonio Davis and Raef LaFrentz, so it doesn't count. Tim Duncan goes for 30 against Ruben Wolkowyski.
Serbia & Montenegro: Without Peja Stojakovic in the lineup, Team Predrag is dangerous but not capable of closing the deal.
Lithuania: The No. 1 threat to American primacy, despite never having beaten a U.S. senior team. Arvydas Macijauskas. Sarunas Jasikevicius. Saulius Strombergas. The names just roll off the tongus. Great outside shooting but nothing inside.
So, go ahead and pick one of them. Take the whole stinkin' lot. El Hombre will roll with the good, old U.S. of A. and cash big. The Olympics belong to the U.S. -- unless of course '72 villains Aleksandr Belov and R. William Jones show up. Then, put it all on the Soviets.
Boys can't just be boys anymore
College football programs started workouts this week, but Division I-A players across the country have been quite busy the past several months.
Lets' see: two Mississippi players have been disciplined after pleading guilty in a gun possession case. A third was suspended after getting arrested for fighting in April. Texas running back Cedric Benson was sentenced to eight days in jail for criminal trespassing but lucked out when jail overcrowding kept him out of the big house.
Miami's Antrel Rolle got lucky when charges of hitting an officer were dropped for what has been termed contact that was "merely incidental." Police said he was fighting, resisted arrest and inadvertently struck a cop, but there wasn't enough there for a conviction. Rolle had to spend a night on patrol with local gendarmes.
Meanwhile, in Nevada, nine Wolf Pack players have been arrested in the past 18 months, including the off-season capper, charges brought last Thursday against cornerback Rodney Landingham for robbing four banks. Four! His twin brother, Randy, was indicted in April on charges of burglary and check forging.
That's quite a -- pardon the pun -- lineup. And it doesn't even include Virginia Tech's Marcus Vick, Miami's Willie Williams, Florida's keg-tossing team or the arrests of players at Tulsa, Arkansas State and Utah State.
What, exactly, is going on here? It's simple. After decades of boys-will-be-boys winkin' and noddin' about football players' antics, the hammer is down. In the old days, the local sheriff would call the head coach at 2 a.m. to tell him that Bubba Joe had gotten into a fight with the entire Sigma Chi fraternity. Coach would bail Bubba Joe out and then make him run the stadium steps for a week at 5 a.m. Case closed. That isn't happening anymore -- or not nearly as often.
With the college football industry getting bigger and bigger, players' senses of entitlement are growing like a redshirt linebacker. When they run amok, players collide with a culture that thrives on celebrity wrongdoing -- whether it's Winona Ryder or a backup tackle at Tech. If colleges want to prevent this from spreading into an epidemic (some would argue we're already there), they must administer penalties with teeth. Convicted of a felony? A year's suspension. Misdemeanor charges? Five games. All charges dropped, but it's clear something went down? Two games. A couple seasons of that ought to clean things up some.
Or at least stop the bank robberies.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: Boy, that Shaquille O'Neal signing has brought a torrent of free-agent talent to Miami, just as team president Pat Riley predicted. In the last week, the Heat have inked Wesley Person, Damon Jones and Keyon Dooling. Somebody start planning the parade route now! ... Just a thought: shouldn't the arbitration hearings involving soon-to-be-locked-out NHL players be taking place in Sweden or Russia, where they'll actually be playing in 2004-05? ... You really have to feel for the Cardinals. One more serious injury and they might just be worse than the Chargers. Naaahhhh.
AND ANOTHER THING: While much of the attention regarding the NL East has gone to just how much the Phillies have underachieved (think Bobby Bonilla with the Mets), the real story in that division is that the Atlanta Braves are cruising -- CRUISING!! -- to their 13th consecutive title. Granted, gallons of ink should be spilled and dozens of larynxes should be strained to describe the failings of the Phils, beginning and ending with high-intensity pleas for the firing of GM Ed Wade, but El Hombre likes to focus on the positive (yeah, right). Losing Greg Maddux, Javy Lopez and Gary Sheffield during the past offseason, on the heels of Tom Glavine's free-agent defection and the trade of Kevin Dead, er, Millwood prior to 2003 should have consigned the Bravos to Pirateland. Instead, manager Bobby Cox and loyal lieutenant Leo Mazzone have rebuilt around (what else) great pitching and hold a comfy six-game lead over the Phlummoxed Phils. If those guys don't get statues outside Turner Field some day, there should be an insurrection.