ATHENS, Greece -- The biggest ego in the United States basketball locker room stayed true to his character, with Larry Brown bringing that old college and pro act to the Olympic Games. He is planning his getaway, selling out those above and below him, spreading the blame for this U.S. basketball disaster to the executives above and players below.
The Travelin' Man is running again, running out on his bosses, his players, and setting the stage for his own absolution when his legacy leaves him without the coaching gold medal to hang with his NBA and NCAA championships. He's the best coach on the planet, but owning a selfish streak to rival his prodigious basketball genius.
In the wake of the 77-71 victory over Greece on Tuesday, the Travelin' Man had on his running shoes, blaming the officiating, the NBA and USA Basketball executives that picked his team, his players' unwillingness to assume complementary roles and the sad state of American shooting.
Brown has started on a calculated campaign to disavow himself of blame when the U.S. fails to win the gold medal. If they lose, he has successfully established that he had nothing to do with it. Yet, if they do, well, then we'll all celebrate the genius of the great Larry Brown, the earnest pupil of Dean Smith beating back the odds and teaching those wayward pros how to play the "right way" for the red, white and blue.
When asked about shortening his bench and using few players in the rotation, Brown said, "Other teams accept it a lot better than our team would. We've got to be really careful when selecting our team. To find role players in our environment is the way to go, but not the way we've been making teams."
His players' commitment?
"We're trying to entertain sometimes rather than play."
Bad shot selection?
"I think that was the first comment I made to our team, without trying to be too offensive."
His message is clear: I'm flying solo for the U.S. of A.
Listen, he makes valid points. But that's not the issue. It is useless for him to sit there now and just rip everyone and everything when he's been hired to do a job. This isn't his fiefdom with an NBA franchise; it's the United States Olympic men's basketball team. The sacrifice he's asking his players to make for the greater cause is one he won't do himself. Sometimes, you've got to stand there and take the hits. Sometimes, you've got to protect your people. He won't do it. USA Basketball is getting killed for this team, and Brown just piled on with the rest of the country.
All these U.S. players America wants to call malcontents and uninterested don't come close to comparing with Brown. He's the biggest headcase of them all.
This wasn't the time for his self-serving, This Won't Be My Fault When We Lose speeches. This is his way of pushing back from the table, excusing himself and leaving everyone else with the bill. The United States has never been so desperate for a unifying voice, so desperate for a leader to rise in the chaos.
If Brown is so frustrated with the willingness of pros to take complementary roles, perhaps he should've worked harder to talk his two championship Pistons, Richard Hamilton and Ben Wallace, into honoring invitations to the Games. Hamilton is the master of working away from the ball, the jump shooter, which is so vital for international basketball. Wallace is the perfect insurance to make sure the U.S. isn't exposed inside when "the unpredictable officiating" has Tim Duncan on the bench with fouls.
Most of the roster had been met with his approval. He was without a vote, but a powerbroker in the process. The biggest mistake the committee made was choosing Emeka Okafor of Connecticut as the final man on the roster, when Milwaukee sharp shooter Michael Redd was needed to combat these zone defenses that have led to the United States missing 38 of 45 3-pointers in its first two Olympic games. There was no need to bring that team GPA up, when they could've used some 3-point shooting.
The coach's campaign for absolution started before the victory over Greece, in the hours after the pounding Puerto Rico delivered to the U.S. Hey, Brown was saying, I can't coach effort. One member of the USA Basketball executive committee, Rod Thorn, wasn't directly responding to Brown's words but said, "I was there, and effort wasn't a problem against Puerto Rico. We just didn't make any shots."
He was right, too.
Between now and the next U.S. game with Australia on Thursday (7:30 a.m. ET), Brown needs to understand the Americans won't win the gold medal unless he plays the second-best player on the U.S., LeBron James, bigger and better minutes.
For all the groaning over the eroding fundamentals of American players, James has a complete and compelling game of shooting, passing and poise. The ball needs to get into James' hands, and out of Stephon Marbury's. Brown didn't stay in his news conference long enough to answer a question about his unwillingness to play James extended minutes, but then, that didn't serve his own interests.
He ripped the construction of his roster, ripped his players, and his message had been delivered. This has nothing to do with me. Unless we win, of course.
They're struggling with selfishness on the Olympic team and struggling to share the ball, the stage and the pursuit of glory in these Games. And it all starts with Larry Brown, no matter how fast he's trying to run from this team, no matter how obsessed he's become with self-preservation.
The Travelin' Man is plotting one more escape, one more end-run out of a job. Larry Brown is with the U.S., all the way: Win or win. Just like old times.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj8@aol.com.