LONDON – Even in victory, Carmelo Anthony remains haunted by the horrors of defeat. This is good news if you’re hoping for continued American basketball dominance.
The United States rolled to a 98-71 basketball victory Sunday afternoon over France, starting what should be a breezy march to the gold medal.
Kobe Bryant recently said this collection of talent could compete with the 1992 team that featured Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. This is basketball heresy, of course, but this current collection of talent is mighty.
France brings a tall, brawny team into the Olympic tournament. Loaded with five NBA players, including point guard Tony Parker, France has a legit chance at a medal.
But the French had no chance against the Americans, who barely broke a sweat while overpowering their outmatched opponent. There’s every reason for this American team to struggle with overconfidence.
That’s why Anthony’s memory is so important. He was there Aug. 27, 2004 in Athens when Argentina defeated the U.S., ending the Americans chance for a gold medal. America marched into the Greek games with 109 wins and two losses in Olympic competition. In two sorry weeks, the team collected more losses than their ancestors had in 68 years.
“We talk about that a lot, myself and LeBron,” Anthony said a few minutes after the victory over France. LeBron, of course, is LeBron James.
Anthony and James sat the bench in 2004, waiting in vain for coach Larry Brown to realize the duo could deliver badly needed points. They watched as Argentina ransacked the nation that dominated the sport for decades.
Anthony and James will not forget, and they will not let their current teammates forget, either. Anthony said he was “embarrassed” to return to American with a bronze medal.
“We don’t want to have that feeling again,” Anthony said. He makes sure his teammates keep memories of the surrender to Argentina fresh in their minds.
Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s mega-star, was 15 years old on the night of the Argentina loss. He’s fascinated by the defeat. He and Anthony talk about the pain of Aug. 27, 2004 often. They chat on bus trips, during team dinners.
“All the time,” Anthony said.
Dwelling on disasters from the past is the right way to prevent repeat disasters. And make no mistake, 2004 was a disaster.
In 2004, the Americans slumbered through the Olympics, hindered by the me-first approach of a bad NBA team. Nobody wanted to pass the ball. Nobody wanted to perform the dirty work required for victory.
Mike Krzyzewski, the fabled Duke coach, was the perfect candidate to rescue the program. He’s the ultimate college coach. Sharing is his favorite word, and he’s obsessed with doing things – every last thing – the right way. And, yes, he’s a bit rigid. His hair has not budged in the last 20 years.
Under Coach K’s guidance, the Americans roared to gold in 2008 at Beijing. And barring some sort of basketball miracle, the American will again rule here in London. Spain and Argentina have a chance to challenge the Americans, but only slightly. I don’t see the United States winning any game by less than 10 points.
Unselfishness is the team’s theme. James sprinkles the word into almost every sentence. King James is starting to sound like a much taller, much heavier version of Coach K.
Can this team become too unselfish?
Durant grimaced at the question.
“That’s the beauty of this team. … We’re all working together,” he said.
Even so, Durant admits Coach K and point guard Chris Paul have been, using his word, “screaming” at him to shoot more. The NBA’s reigning scoring champ just wants to share.
This is radical strategy, considering the talent level of this team. But this is exactly the strategy that will lead to gold. The Americans scored 31 baskets in Sunday’s victory; 27 came after assists. That’s a massively encouraging ratio.
Anthony remains haunted by the defeat to Argentina. He never wants to again return to homeland without a gold medal hanging from his neck.
He doesn’t need to worry. He plays on a team filled with a generous spirit.
A team fully prepared to rule the world.