By Jake Appleman

The Mission:

According to a leaflet handed to me by Christine Gebhard, a prominent figure involved with the competition, the bi-annual Albert-Schweitzer international basketball tournament is, “the largest privately organized tournament for junior national teams in the world, co-hosted by the German Basketball Federation, City of Mannheim, and the U.S. Military Community Mannheim.”

The tournament, hosted every two years, is like the mini-Olympics. Fans from all around the world pack the US Sports Arena on the American Army base in support of their country’s young ballers, joining locals and American soldiers from Mannheim and other nearby military bases. The atmosphere created is mesmerizing.

Schweitzer, who received the 1952 noble prize for his philosophy regarding “reverence for life”, said:

I will not enumerate all the crimes that have been committed under the pretext of justice. People robbed native inhabitants of their land, made slaves of them, let loose the scum of mankind upon them. Think of the atrocities that were perpetrated upon people made subservient to us, how systematically we have ruined them with our alcoholic “gifts,” and everything else we have done…We decimate them, and then, by the stroke of a pen, we take their land so they have nothing left at all…

The tournament represents a coming together of nations during good times as well as bad. Its respect for the game of basketball represents Schweitzer’s fundamental love of life, about which he once stated:

True philosophy must start from the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness: ‘I am life that wants to live, in the midst of life that wants to live.’”

The US History:

Magic Johnson, Vince Carter and Baron Davis all balled here. From what I could gather, Tim Duncan, as a raw young big from the Virgin Islands, rode the bench in Mannheim. To those who knew Duncan way back when, his transformation into arguably the greatest power forward of all-time came out of nowhere.

Dirk, Tony Parker and other notable internationals battled against the US throughout the years. To celebrate the past, here’s an excerpt of an interview I did with Dick McCann, who coached the US team at the Albert Schweitzer tournament for 31 years:

SLAM: What are your standout memories from year years coaching the US team?

McCann: The 1977 team that averaged about 130 points per game…The 1985 team was a good team: Glen Rice, BJ Armstrong.

SLAM: Talk about memories of guys in the NBA.

DM: The ’96 team had Jermaine O’Neal, Baron Davis.

SLAM: I heard Baron and Vince came off the bench.

DM: Vince was on the ’94 team, two years before. He did not come off the bench. He started at a wing. But Baron came off the bench. I always had a philosophy that I would make someone that I knew was good enough to start but didn’t have to be a star; if we ever had to make somebody come off the bench and give a spark—that was the player I went to.

And I used [Baron Davis] in that capacity and we spoke about it before we even started playing. He had no problems doing it. He could come off the bench and throw in 20 points on any given night. He had players falling all over themselves because of his skill handling the basketball. He was so skilled that the officials did not call carrying on him. I mean, he hid the ball that well; he hid it on his hip—he held it, he double dribbled, he did everything. He was so skilled that the referees didn’t call anything on him.

SLAM: That’s incredible…Did it get harder as it went along?

DM: It got harder for a couple of reasons. A lot of the kids starting out with the 2000 team came to Europe and played and weren’t interested in coming back. Parents kept saying they didn’t want their children to come back because of the world’s situation. And then the McDonald’s game taking place this week…the Jordan game…all of these games conflicting with the event over here, so instead being able to get players from 25-50, we were getting players from 75-125. Not that they weren’t good players—they were good kids and they were good players—but given the skill of the European teams, it was very, very difficult to get kids to be able compete with and they weren’t interested in coming back. So we did the best we could. Some of the kids we had have come to the NBA. Thaddeus Young spent one year at Georgia Tech. He was on the 2004 team. He’s doing a very good job in Philadelphia.

The Future:

The ’08 rendition of Team USA was sponsored by 2K8 Sports and brought to Germany by Adidas International. Team USA fit a mold that Adidas is trying to develop through its Adidas Nations project. The premise is to work with the kids and teach them once a month, so that when they play in international competition, they can apply what they’ve learned. If the 2010 AST team works out once a month, every month, it will have more of an ability to put its best foot forward in competition against internationals that grow up playing ball with their national teams.
Lang wrote last summer:

According to adidas, the whole thing is “designed to emphasize and focus on adidas’ core belief that real success in the game of basketball comes with playing in a team.” So, teams of the best players from the Class of 08 and 09 have been assembled around the world (in the U.S., China, Europe, Latin America). They’ll train in their respective countries, then meet up…

As Darren Matsubara, General manager of Adidas Nations, aptly puts it, “You’ve created a philosophy, you’ve created a mentality…doing it once a month, you’re reinforcing what you’re teaching. Everything with today’s youth is instant coffee, fast food. We’ve gotta get back to the meat and potatoes.”

Mats talks about training the kids before they get to the finish, not just letting the ones that make it to the league glean knowledge from the rookie transition program. To get his point across, he uses the metaphor of basketball players as students, noting that it’s better to study 5 times to get one A than studying once to get 5 C’s. For anyone who wants to see US international basketball return to prominence, it’s hard to disagree.

“That’s why I’m proud of the Adidas Nations program,” Mats says. “It is what it’s advertised to be.”

“Adidas Nations is taking the first step to change the culture.”