LONDON — There is a United States basketball team that has won four straight gold medals and hasn’t lost an Olympics game since 1992. It opened play here in the 2012 Games on Saturday, beating Croatia 81-56.
It was the women’s team’s 34th consecutive Olympics victory.
There were four print reporters from America at the game.
Three stuck around for interviews in the mixed zone.
Another basketball team from the U.S. opened its pursuit of gold on Sunday. It beat France 98-71.
A few thousand media seats were full an hour before tipoff and the spillover of reporters in attendance watched from several rows near the top of the arena. Twenty of so more reporters stood outside, angry they were not allowed entrance. The mixed zone afterward resembled something of a Hatebreed mosh pit.
One longtime Olympics writer called the U.S. men whipping up on the French the most uninspiring event he has ever attended at the Games, a predictable blowout concluded with NBA stars waiting a good 40 or so minutes before gracing others with their presence to field questions and pine about things like togetherness and intelligent play and having to rebound better.
As if that’s going to make a difference.
I forgave LeBron James for his tardiness, because it was obvious by his eye ware he had been delayed securing bigger glasses than Harry Potter, which I assumed was some sort of crime in these parts.
Not that anyone would charge James.
Team USA members are rock stars here as they were in Beijing, or at least do their best to act the part in somewhat annoying fashion, stratospheres beyond their American female counterparts who are as, if not more dominating when it comes to the scoreboard. It’s no different here than at home. People can’t get enough of the best players in the world and they can’t get enough of themselves.
There have been stories about empty seats and unused tickets at several venues, but neither was an issue for this game once all the volunteers were afforded a chance to sit and watch.
“The (attention) never gets old,” U.S. point guard Chris Paul said. “We don’t take it lightly. It’s a huge responsibility. It’s an honor and a privilege to go out there and be recognized. But at the end of the day, we know what we’re here for and we want to make sure we compete and do it the right way.”
They could do it any way and still win gold. France has four NBA players on its roster, the most decorated being point guard Tony Parker, so it owns more international legitimacy than the Tunisia and Nigeria sides that the Americans will face in their next two pool games.
But it’s going to take some serious Hogwarts magic for the U.S. to lose. The only hope is that future games aren’t as boring as the one Saturday.
It didn’t help that 30 fouls were called over a 20-minute first half, although the complete lack of flow warmed my heart to realize an entire Mountain West Conference crew of referees must have been invited to work the Games. It was sloppy. Tedious. Going-through-the-motions sort of stuff. It was just a one-point game after the opening quarter, when I’m sure U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski reminded his players the French last won something right before their fall to the Roman Empire and that it might be a good idea for the Americans to shoot better than 29 percent.
“It wasn’t perfect,” Harry Potter said. “We’ve still got room for improvement. We had too many turnovers, too many fouls and we had a couple of defensive rebounds we could have come up with. But overall, we played a pretty good game for as close to 40 minutes as possible.”
There wasn’t much atmosphere for a standing-room only crowd, although cheers came for the collection of U.S. dunks. A few chants of, “USA! USA! USA!” began long before Tyson Chandler scored the game’s first basket, but those were just the French fans.
The American players entered singing and dancing and exited by each hugging First Lady Michelle Obama. It just has the same feel as Beijing, that while an Argentina or a Spain might push the U.S. for a game, might even put enough of a scare in it that Krzyzewski has to call timeout for something other than to discuss the evening’s dinner plans, nothing will alter the expected course of results.
“We know and understand we’re the most talented team on paper,” Paul said. “But nobody has ever won a game on paper. If we play the game the right way, we’ll be tough to beat.”
They could play everyone wearing Albus Dumbledore costumes and win this thing. And be just as indifferent doing so.
ED GRANEY is a sports columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He also is writing an Olympics blog at www.lvrj.com/blogs/graney Follow him on Twitter @edgraney He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.