What hap­pens in Ve­gas had bet­ter not stay there

Out­look should re­main good for Team USA in Sin City

The Covington News - - SPORTS - By Jim Litke

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.

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