URCHISAR, Turkey -- I have just finished lunch in this town in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, where I was serenaded in one ear by the restaurant's recording of
("Maybe," incidentally, represents Joplin at her bluesy best. The song was written by the late
But back to "strange" and the World Championship. Even some hardcore hoops fans struggle to get their minds around the once-every-four-years-event, which is never prominent on the U.S. sports radar. Before I left on this half-work/half-vacation journey, a friend told me, "Hey, I just saw
The lack of attention paid the Worlds is understandable, given that it generally coincides with the heating up of pennant races and the launch of King Football and doesn't seem to mean much since it is not encircled by Olympic rings. But, actually, it does. With the U.S. preparing for its quarterfinal match on Monday against Angola, now is the time to start watching with a serious eye, it being a lose-and-go-home situation. Herewith a primer on the Worlds:
We have been a member of FIBA, the international governing body of basketball, since 1934, so we always participate.
We have to be. It's a qualifying tournament for the Olympics.
We're not special. A gold medal in these Worlds is the path to automatic qualification for the 2012 Games in London.
No. We usually win the Olympics, the grand exceptions being 1972 (when the refs handed the gold medal game to the Soviet Union, and that's fact, not sour grapes), 1988 (the last defeat before the inclusion of NBA players on Olympic teams) and 2004 (when a misfit U.S. team lost to Puerto Rico, 92-73, out of the gate and managed only bronze). We have a much more checkered past in the Worlds.
The 2006 U.S. team -- which featured
Bottom line: We haven't won the world championship of basketball since 1994 when the so-called Dream Team II, a loaded, chest-pounding group that included
Well, they're not here. Nobody from the 2008 gold-medal team is here. Due to protracted NBA seasons, free-agent theatrics, injuries and general offseason ennui, most of the big stars opted out. Our best player is the 21-year-old Durant.
Absolutely not. Several pro stars from other nations, including Germany's
We have the best talent, not necessarily the best team. It was assembled quickly, and hastily assembled teams often don't jell on offense. That was the case in the preliminary round of the Worlds, where the U.S. went undefeated primarily because of its defensive effort.
There will be the usual hand-wringing back in the States about the deteriorating condition of American ball, without the accompanying realization about the depth of talent beyond our shores, the difficulty of NBA players adjusting to FIBA rules (the real underrated difference in my opinion being a 40-minute game instead of a 48-minute game) and the vicissitudes of international reffing. But the major impact is that we will have to enter a qualifying tournament next summer, when the prospect of another lockout looms.