Sunday, October 1|
U.S. coaches lead way in poor sportsmanship
By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com
SYDNEY, Australia --- As it turned out, this was a perfect picture, these
United States coaches screaming and swearing, chasing the game officials off
the SuperDome court. Why wouldn't Alonzo Mourning need a member of the United
States delegation to wrap his arms around him and get him out of harm's way? Why wouldn't Vince
Carter spend his time preening in the face of a Lithuanian instead of shaking
Ultimately, it comes down to this: Why wouldn't there be chaos on the
court, when it can be found on the bench?
All they had to do was watch Rudy Tomjanovich screaming a profanity to an
official on his way off the floor of the United States' 85-83 victory, when
he should've been insisting his players take the time to congratulate
Lithuania for one of the great performances in the history of basketball. He
should've tackled his little buddy, Larry Brown, when the phony Philadelphia
coach chased the referee off the floor with the ferocity he usually saves for
a plumb job opening. Another assistant, Kentucky's Tubby Smith, had to grab
Brown and physically pull him out of the ref's face.
This is setting a standard for sportsmanship? Brown can spend the summer
ripping Allen Iverson on issues of accountability, and yet Brown can behave
this way at the Olympics while the U.S. players get ripped to the ends of the
earth? Remember, they won't let Iverson into the Olympics. Just imagine the
national furor if Iverson chased a ref off the court and had to be
And to understand why the NBA players are running around Sydney so sure
the world hates them, so sure they've got to bring this nasty edge to
the Olympics, is to know that Tomjanovich has been beating this "Everyone hates
us," mantra into the team. It just isn't true. The rest of the world
wants to love the Dream Team. The rest of the world asked for it. Yet, the
NBA players refuse to let them. And this was never the intention of sending
pros to the Olympics.
The harder the coaches pushed the United States' problems off on the
officials, the easier to mask how ill-prepared and ill-advised the U.S. team
has been as it struggled throughout this tournament. Most of America can live
with the rest of the world working the angles of international basketball,
running impeccable offensive sets, packing tight zones and clutching and
grabbing American uniforms to slow the game to a sluggish speed. They can
live with Lithuania delivering a game for the ages and threatening to bring
the walls crumbling down on the Dream Team. Nobody likes it, but they can
live with it.
Yet, where is the outrage today over the embarrassment of this coaching
staff. Everyone loves Rudy Tomjanovich, but the most embarrassing elements of
the unforgettable night started and ended with him and his little helper,
Larry Brown. For all the grief John Thompson had to endure for bringing home
a bronze medal with college kids in 1988, he never embarrassed the country.
He just a lost a game to the Soviet Union in the semifinals of the Olympics.
Looking back, Thompson had the team at a most difficult crossroads. Early
entry had started to crush the colleges, at a time the Soviet Union had been
dissolved and the top Russian players weren't scattered into breakaway
republics. Looking back, there was good reason for the loss.
There was a telling scene on the United States sideline with 29.5 seconds
left in the Lithuanian game. There was a stoppage of play, the U.S. shooting
free throws, and Ray Allen heard a voice telling him to get into the game for
Antonio McDyess. After rushing to the floor, there was a wild scene on the
bench. Brown screamed to Allen to get back to the bench, and Tim Hardaway
screamed to Tomjanovich that the lineup on the floor was too small, and they
needed McDyess back in the game.
"I didn't just hear someone tell me out of the blue sky to get in the
game," Allen said. "One of the coaches told me. It got to be a cluster on the sideline.
Everyone was jumping up and down. The coaches didn't all agree on it.
Luckily, the players caught it. Tim Hardaway said to Rudy, 'We've got to get
Antonio back into the game.'"
"...We had confusion at that point. We didn't know who was supposed to be
in the game. It got out of hand."
As best as players could remember, the coaches hadn't spent much time on
these end of the game scenarios in practice. Understand: Before the Games, the rest us can tell Tomjanovich that the Dream
Team will never play a close game, that they'll breeze by in the Olympics,
but this is his job. He has to have this team prepared. It isn't.
"I don't think it should ever get to that point," Allen said. "The
coaches need to make it clear to the players how many timeouts we have, who's
on the floor, who's the guy we need to stop on the other team, how are we
going to play defense. We've got to be in a situation where there are four
coaches who need to be able to tell us what we're doing --- and that starts with
the head coach on down."
In the end, the Dream Team will get beaten and bloodied for its
performance in these Olympics. Winning a gold medal on Sunday night won't
change it. Just this time, people shouldn't stop there.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for the Bergen Record and regular
contributor to ESPN.com.
|USA assistant coach Larry Brown (R) argues with the referee after the game of the men's semifinal basketball match against Lithuania.|
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