I had the accidental good sense to watch the gold medal match between the U.S. and Spain while out on the town; the trying-too-hard-to-be-L.A. club I was in happened to have the live telecast on all three of the flat screens behind the bar, so I watched without commentary and with a Euro-house “untz-untz-untz” in the background that was solely broken up by the DJ spinning M.I.A.’s “Paper Plates,” fitting because no one on the corner had swagger like both teams had in that game.
If you want to see a nightclub tilted towards a large douchebag factor turn their attention to a T.V. set like that, make the game close, it will inspire shouts of “U.S.A! U.S.A!” in seconds. Anyway, it was compelling television — the manic pace, like an All-Star Game that meant something, the sick dunk Rudy Fernandez put on Dwight Howard , the scrambles all over the floor. The end was in doubt until Kobe Bryant hit that three and got fouled — because there wasn’t a whole lot of defense on both ends. But damn, did I love this:
(Hush, hush. I think I hear you calling my name.)
I’m sure Jacques Rogge will issue a statement before the closing ceremonies admonishing Bryant for not showing the proper amount of sportsmanship with that selfish gesture. (Leave Usain Bolt alone, Jacques!) Meanwhile, in the club, as soon as Bryant whipped that three out, a complete stranger and I just looked at each other and imitated that exact hush (a total sports bar moment in a non-sports bar.) The squad of ballers just told a long line of fuckwads to shut their mouths:
– They hushed everyone who said NBA players were too “selfish,” too “undisciplined” to play together for all those years after Athens.
– Dwyane Wade hushed up anyone who wondered about how good he would be after being hurt for a large part of last year as the team’s sixth man.
– Kobe Bryant just hushed up any of the last few people out there who thought he couldn’t play as part of a team concept. By no means was he the leading scorer, but he was an important cog in the mix.
– The team hushed up anyone who thought that the system that foreign players were brought up in was somehow inherently superior and wrote so loudly in print, with overtones of outright racism. (If any game looked like Mike D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds or Less”, it was chunks of this one, and proof the U.S. team can adjust — although Coach K cannot, see more on this later.)
– The gold medal ought to hush up anyone who continues to defend Larry Brown’s coaching effort in 2004. How a college coach (even one with the respected track record of Mike Krzyzewski) could get grown men to play defensively first and yet a supposed defensive coaching genius like Brown could not ought to be worthy of a bit of scrutiny. Yes, different squads, different process, but Brown was more of an Achilles heel in Athens than his players were. He didn’t set a very good rotation, and the most talented players seemed to be in his doghouse for no reason.
To be brutally honest, Coach K didn’t look like he had all the answers in game (Spain goes to zone and no Michael Redd or Tayshaun Prince; no Carlos Boozer when both Chris Bosh and Howard were having issues), but if the philosophy was, “play defense and do everything you want on offense,” then it worked for the first few rounds.
– They hushed me up, because I honestly thought this team needed another big man, but they were able to run circles around teams.
Unfortunately, not all the haters are hushed up — there’s a lot of qualifying “But, but it was a close game” to many of the wrie-ups, as if the entire process was supposed to be easy. The world has gotten better; we are the gold standard again, but it won’t ever be like it was back in the day when the U.S. won by default. That’s a good thing.
I wish the win would hush up —
– Doug Collins, who still isn’t over 1972 and said so in damn near every teelcast. It was nice not to hear him talk for the final.
– Jemele Hill, who penned an inexplicable column suggesting the black community was placing an importance on this team winning gold. I wonder whom she is talking to. As if one gold medal lets up on the stupid stereotypes about black NBA ballers that sportswriters use all the damn time. Call out the writers who use these stupid tropes.
– Bill Walton, who appeared on ESPN minutes after the semi-final against Argentina ended to spit trash about how it was the sloppiest game he’d seen on the U.S.’s part, it wasn’t a good game, and the only reason the U.S. won was because Manu Ginobili got hurt. Since I’m on the West Coast, I watched the game on delay an hour later and saw something completely different. Amazing. It wasn’t nearly as apocalyptic as he made it out to be, but then, that’s Walton — anything that isn’t John Wooden-based does not meet his approval.
– Every writer whom, in the next few days, will give Jerry Colangelo and Krzyzewski all the damn credit for the team. These are the people who pushed the idea of a “Redeem Team”, not only because it sounded good and made good headline copy, but as if it was some damn fault of the players that the U.S. didn’t win everything basketball-related and were solely responsible for a supposed decline in the American hoops game. No one calls out the minor-leaguers and journeymen we sent to rep the U.S. in baseball when they never win gold; no one is raising a stink over the U.S. losing out on softball gold for the first time since it became an Olympic sport.
Photo: Getty/AFP/Filippo Monteforte