Aug. 17, 2004
Even if the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team takes a gold medal home from Athens, the future of this program needs a major re-evaluation.
It's obvious that a number of countries have improved significantly -- in the way they play the game, their talent level and their process of putting together a team. Some countries have their national teams working as a unit for almost a year leading up to the Olympics.
The way this American team was put together did not give it sufficient time to prepare to play as a cohesive group. Instead, after three short weeks of practices and exhibitions -- practice started July 26 -- it was off to Athens. That's one reason why Puerto Rico dominated the Olympic opener 92-73 on Sunday.
It is time to scrap the idea of picking an NBA All-Star team to compete in the Olympics.
I've heard a number of ideas to improve the future of the program. Here's my thought: It is time to scrap the idea of picking an NBA All-Star team to compete in the Olympics. Let's face it, having a bunch of guys who are No. 1 options on their NBA teams instead of several role players does not work in international basketball competition. Just watch the way a country like Argentina plays!
We need to send a cohesive group of players who are familiar with each another. My suggestion is to send the NBA champion. Choose three alternate representatives, so if the NBA champion has foreign players competing for other countries in the Olympics, the alternates can step in.
This way, you send a club that has played together and worked as a team, with players who understand their roles. You don't need all superstars to win.
Just ask Olympics coach Larry Brown, who also happened to coach the Detroit Pistons past the favored and star-studded Los Angeles Lakers for the 2004 NBA championship. Ask Brown how he'd feel if his Detroit players -- Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace and Co. -- were wearing the red, white and blue right now.
No, it wouldn't be easy coming off a long NBA season. But it would give the Americans a better chance, and the NBA champions would have the added incentive of getting a gold medal to go along with that gorgeous championship ring from NBA commissioner David Stern.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.