For the first time since Barcelona, there's real buzz surrounding Olympic men's basketball.
A big reason for the anticipation: the expected full-flowering of the American side -- the so-called "Redeem Team" -- after three years under the czarist leadership of U.S. men's national-team program managing director
But as someone who sat in a near-empty RCA Dome at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis -- and was more appalled by the indifference of the Hoosier homefolks than by the sorry performance of sixth-place Team USA -- I'm most juiced about the prospect of seeing a full and (by relatively demure Chinese standards) rocking Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium.
The hosts may be a long shot for a medal, but
Meanwhile, the international federation, FIBA, has done its part, choosing to fill out the draw by staging a single worldwide qualifying tournament. This has delivered a deep, European-flavored field: Last-minute Olympic entries from the qualifier, which concluded in Athens on July 20, are Croatia (always a rugged, sure-shooting side); Germany (with
Basketball is the Western sport most thoroughly integrated into the lives of the Chinese, who can claim more NBA fans than the U.S. counts citizens. "In China, Yao's jersey is only fifth or sixth in sales," Colangelo says -- his point being that the Chinese will show up to see a broad constellation of NBA stars they know, and not just the ones on the U.S. team.
Indeed, no one will regard the Redeem Team with paralyzing awe. The 21st century isn't even a decade old, and already collections of the finest U.S. pros have lost to Argentina, Italy, Lithuania, Puerto Rico, Serbia and Spain, as well as the Greeks -- the latter a team without a single NBA player.
Men's hoops is the toughest ticket at these Games. But in contrast to 1992, lucky fans with ducats will be witnesses to a competition, not an exhibition.
We're now four Olympiads removed from Barcelona, and the very thing that NBA commissioner