What happens in Vegas had better not stay there
Outlook should remain good for Team USA in Sin City
Just this once, the NBA is hoping that what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas.
A dozen of its top stars and role players are gathered there under the banner of Team USA for most of the next two weeks hoping to lock up a guaranteed spot in next summer’s Olympics. Judged solely by their debut — a 112-68 pounding of hopelessly undermanned Venezuela — qualifying shouldn’t be a problem.
Then again, only the two teams that meet in the FIBA Americas championship game Sept. 2 can book their tickets to Beijing. That Team USA even had to qualify only hints at how far basketball’s mightiest superpower has fallen.
Americans once took Olympic gold for granted. That sense of security topped out in 1992, when the U.S. national team in Barcelona included Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan in his absolute prime. The only thing rivals had in common was that some of them showed up wearing Air Jordans.
But something Dream Team coach Chuck Daly predicted before departing turned out to be spot-on. He said kids everywhere else, their imaginations stoked by the display they’d just witnessed, would start dribbling down to the corner using one hand and switch to the other for the walk home — honing their games the way Americans kids on playgrounds in New York and driveways in Indiana had for decades.
Beginning with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and continuing down to the last player on the bench, there isn’t a coach in the world that wouldn’t swap jobs with Mike Krzyzewski.
For once, though, the roster features as many role players as franchise players, reflecting national team director Jerry Colangelo’s philosophy that a team is made up of complementary parts instead of the best ones available. That’s something he learned watching the rest of the world play.
It also didn’t hurt that this squad has home-court advantage, because the USA could have locked up a qualifying spot at the FIBA World Cham- pionships in Japan last July and only managed a bronzemedal finish.
There’s serendipity that Team USA’s home-court advantage wound up in Las Vegas. Other than staging an All-Star game there, the NBA has stayed away from Sin City as possible. League rules bar referees from even entering a casino, and over the years, commissioner David Stern has rejected repeated overtures to locate a franchise in Vegas.
That didn’t stop Harrah’s Entertainment from announcing Wednesday that it planned to build a 20,000-seat arena to house an NBA or NHL team. With potentially embarrassing revelations spilling over from the federal case against disgraced referee Tim Donaghy, Harrah’s chief executive Gary Loveman shouldn’t expect Stern to return his calls any time soon.