Reasons to watch World Championship

Originally Published: August 26, 2010
By Vincent Thomas | Special to Page 2

We often hear that the FIBA World Championship is more important than the Olympics to most countries. It's the basketball equivalent of FIFA's World Cup. The problem is that nobody buys that in the U.S., where the world championships are much less significant than the Olympics. That's just how we do it in America, where we also refuse to embrace Nutella or the metric system.

So, chances are you might not know that the world championships will begin this weekend. And even if you do, you might have looked at the Team USA roster and -- after not seeing names like Kobe or LeBron or Carmelo or Dwight -- decided you wouldn't tune in.The squad we're sending to Turkey, after all, features just three All-Stars (Chauncey Billups, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose) after Rajon Rondo's departure and a bunch of youngsters. If you're not an NBA junkie, you might have never seen Eric Gordon dribble a basketball.

However, this promises to be an interesting tournament. Here are some reasons you should tune in:

Ricky Rubio sightings: Minnesota drafted the precocious virtuoso in 2009, but we haven't seen him since. He told Minnesota president David Kahn and the Timberwolves to kick rocks. He is the most hyped international prospect since Darko Milicic, but in Rubio's case, we should believe the hype. He might look like actor Jay Baruchel or some other dude where you wouldn't be afraid to, say, flirt with his girlfriend while he's standing next to her, but he plays like a beast. He's a cross between Pistol Pete Maravich, Jamal Crawford and Steph Curry. Rubio, who will no-look-pass you to death, is the most entertaining player in the tournament. The next month is your only chance to catch a glimpse of him for at least the next year.

A chance for Coach K haters to gloat: Not to suggest one would root against Team USA, but Mike Krzyzewski's haters will love watching him sweat. Team USA was really challenged only in the gold-medal game in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Other than that, Coach K was a cool cat on the bench as USA's superstars trampled the competition. The world championships will be much different. The red-faced maniac who surfaces on the Duke sideline sometimes? That man will appear regularly in this tournament. Sit back and snicker.

Turkish music -- get hip: Sitting at home, you often can hear NBA arena music over the crowd, commentators and action on the court. That means a steady stream of Jay-Z, Black Eyed Peas, Drake, Katy Perry, etc. Not in Turkey, though. Who knows whether they'll even engage in the new American tradition of beating our eardrums to death with nonstop pop music? If they do, you'll be rocking with Tarkan, Serdar Ortac and Ayla Isil. We all could use a little sitar in our lives.

Cinderella squads: The FIBA World Championship features 24 squads to the Olympics' 12. It's mostly the cream of the crop. Remember how Ghana riveted everyone in the World Cup? There's always a possibility that Lebanon, Angola or Jordan could manage a few upsets. I'm pulling for New Zealand, hoping that a trip to the semifinals means we might get Flight of the Conchords to sing the national anthem.

Derrick Rose on Skittles: Remember that T-shirt Rajon Rondo wore for an "NBA 2K11" video-game promo? It read, "I have a ring. I'm better than Derrick Rose." Well, after starting a few games for Team USA, Rondo lost his spot to Rose, and before he knew it, he was getting DNPs. He recently withdrew from the team for the classic "family matters" reason. Rose, on the other hand, might end up being the star of the tournament. He's been a Freak Force of nature thus far, light-speeding down the court in a blur, obviously on a sugar high from his Skittles. He might do so well during the next month that Chris Paul and Deron Williams might have to start worrying about their spots in 2012. Take that, Rondo.

The little dudes that could: By basketball standards, Team USA is a squad full of shrimps. It plays two point guards at a time. Kevin Durant, whose physique has been compared to cartoon character Olive Oil, plays power forward. Lamar Odom plays center! There are some big dudes on these international squads. If Greece advances, Odom might have to wrestle down low with Sofoklis Schortsanitis. Dude weighs 370 pounds.

Eastern European tensions: Speaking of Greece … it got into a scuffle with Serbia. And by "scuffle," I mean a fracas that featured Serbia's Nenad Krstic throwing haymakers and chairs. The chair he threw struck Greek big man Ioannis Bourousis in the noggin and landed Krstic in police custody for a night. Emotions run high in these tournaments. Not World Cup life-or-death high, but high. With that said, this Krstic dude is a loose cannon. I wonder which American he will punch or throw a chair at or try to strangle with a wet towel.

Who will be Team USA's villain? It might be the back of Kevin Love's head that catches a Krstic-thrown chair. Who knows? I do have a job for him, though. I need for him to be Team USA's instigator/antagonist. Foreign players have gotten under many American players' skins with an assortment of shenanigans -- jersey tugs, knees to the groin, sneaky elbows and, of course, flopping. They like to act, too. A lot of flailing arms, groans and yelps of fake excruciating pain. It's Razzie-worthy stuff. Now, Love didn't get enough screen time on last week's "Entourage" to really show us his bad-acting chops (Mark Cuban, on the other hand, was actually pretty good), but something tells me he has it in him. He can be our villain.

Turkish hooliganism: Back in May, angry fans torched their own stadium after a final-game draw with Trabzonspor awarded the Turkish League title to its hated rival, Bursaspor. The fans actually made bonfires in their seats. No joke. Greece, Puerto Rico and Russia might want to play in riot gear when they face Mehmet Okur, Hedo Turkoglu and Turkey.

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