by Alan Paul
Wow. That’s just about all I can say three days into my first Olympics.
I am working as a blogger for NBC.com and they have me running every which way. In addition to covering life in Beijing during the Games, I am being sent out to some choice events, especially those where Chinese athletes are favored to win Gold, to offer some additional commentary. Doing that has taken me to shooting, diving and women’s weightlifting, none of which I ever thought I would attend, much less enjoy – and they’ve all been both fun and remarkably compelling.
But it’s not all new and exotic for me – I am also hitting the basketball games hard. I hope to be at every game Team USA plays, sitting each time in the prime seat reserved for NBC. Yeah, go ahead and pinch me.
You already know all about the game, said to be the most-watched ever. In case, you missed out on something, here’s my game report. A couple of hours before tipoff, I learned that President Bush would meet with the team beforehand. I was invited to tag along with the NBC Sports camera crew capturing the photo op. The wacky tale of what ensued is captured here.
The main thing I want to convey here, 24 hours later and with so much known about the game, is this: I felt honored to be there for the game and it was probably the most exciting sports event I’ve ever been to. That might seem impossible considering that the final score was 101-70 and the second half was about as tense as a Globetrotters game, becoming a veritable dunkathon much to the delight of the sold-out crowd and, unbelievably enough, some of the Chinese players.
But the beginning of the game was just remarkably electric. The energy was so intense it felt like the stadium – new and beautiful, by the way – was going to blast off into outer space. One of the truly unique things was how intensely the crowd was cheering for both teams. The player introductions were deafening. The national anthems were moving. This was an extremely hard ticket to score and the entire crowd also just seemed really pleased to be there.
It was a great thing that the Chinese came out shooting very well, keeping them in the game for most of the first half and keeping that intense energy flow going. Towards the end of the second quarter, USA began to take control and never really looked back. I don’t think you can take all too much away from the game in terms of the American’s chances. It was too much of an outlier game, the talent gap was too extreme and they definitely had some early game yips about their first Olympics game.
Some thoughts on the Chinese team: YI JIanlin looked totally lost most of the game. Sorry Nets fans. Sun Yue, newly signed by the Lakers after being drafted by them last year, looked good. He did not back down against his future teammate Kobe in the early going, made some threes and created open looks for others.
Sun’s backup Chen Jianghua also looked great, though he is still probably too frail to play real D and his outside shot looks to be severely lacking. He comes in and quickly splits the D, driving in and as the defense collapses, he kicks out to the corner for an open three. The nest time down, he makes a similar move, freezes the d with a fake pass and goes to the hoop for an easy two. I did a Slam piece on Chen two years ago and was happy to see him looking good. He’s a streetball kid who was supposed to be the first great Chinese pg, but his development ahs stalled a bit and it was touch and go if he would even make the National Team. I’m hoping he keeps developing.
Kobe’s shot was really off early in the game, but he turned the whole thing around with a couple of steals that led to fast break slams by D Wade and Lebron and put the boot on China’s throat.
After the game, the press conference was pretty comical. The Chinese host didn’t speak great English and the huge international press contingent asked rather, uh, stupid questions. Several tried to get the Chinese player and coach to discuss USA”s “showng off” referring to all the dunks. When Coach K got the same question, he had a great answer. “I didn’t think anyone was showing off. We were playing hard. We were going to the hoop hard so we didn’t get our shots blocked. Maybe there’s a language problem between us and ‘playing hard’ is what you really mean.”
A Chinese reporter asked Chris Bosh if they were the new Dream Team. “We’re not trying to the Dream Team,” he said. “We’re just trying to be a really solid American team. We can’t compare to those guys because they did so much as individuals than we did. We have a lot to do and if we win, then maybe someone can give us a name.”
Someone else asked if he would guarantee a gold medal. More precisely, he said, “Are you sure you will win all of the games?
Bosh’s reply: “We have confidence in ourselves. That’s the point in competing and having pride in our team. There are a lot of great reams but it starts with us; we need to worry about ourselves not others. We need to prepare, not beat ourselves, not underestimate anyone. If we do that, then we are going to be in great condition.”
Then the press conference moderator said, “Thank you Bosh. You can leave and have a rest.” That drew a laugh from both the player and the huge press contingent.