For Adv Weekend Editions Aug 10-11
HAVANA (AP) _ You’ve seen the cartoon a million times. One animated character closing what seemed an insurmountable distance to a few precious steps only to have the chasee speed away and restore the margin to a frustrating level.
Well, it’s happening in the world of basketball and the players involved are far from celluoid figures. They are international players who have been chasing their brethren from the United States. Now that they are close enough to have snared a gold medal or two, the United States will be pulling away.
The method of acceleration was the inclusion of players from the National Basketball Association on the U.S. roster for the 1992 Olympics. And it won’t be just any NBA players; it will be the best of the best.
″I don’t think it will hurt the international game, but the tournaments from now on will be played for second place on down, and in that sense teams are probably not really looking forward to them,″ Puerto Rican national coach Raymond Dalmau said while scouting at the Pan American Games. ″Nobody really likes to play for second place. They feel they want to have a legitimate chance to win the tournament.″
The consensus throughout the international basketball community is that the competition at Barcelona next summer will start with the U.S. flag already raised on the highest pole.
As with soccer’s greatest players, only first names are needed - Magic, Michael, Isiah, Charles.
″I don’t know what team the U.S. will bring there,″ Brazilian forward Marcel Sousa said. ″If you bring the real stuff, it will be very, very difficult. But it will be an honor to play against them.
″I already played against Michael Jordan, but it was when he was in college. It will be a pleasure and honor again. It always is to guard somebody who can smash you. Perhaps in 40 years it doesn’t matter - 40 years, 30 years, 15, five. In Europe now they already have the talent to match the NBA, not the All-Stars, but the second level.″
That’s what seems so frustrating to those involved. It took about 20 years for the international community’s best to reach the level of the U.S. collegiate all-star teams which always participated in the Olympics, world championships and Pan Am Games. Now that the United States has become mortal in that context, it seems American domination will again become the norm.
″I’m not upset about it,″ Dalmau said, ″I just think the U.S. is tired of losing. They haven’t won an international tournament in five years and they see that every other country uses professional players because they use their best players, a lot of whom play professional basketball. The U.S. feels they have the right to use their better players, who are the pros. They probably feel at this time that the rest of the world has gotten a lot better and they’re not on the same level as they used to be.″
The last U.S. gold medal in a major international competition was at the 1986 world championships. Since then, there was the 1987 Pan Am finals upset at the hands of Sousa and teammate Oscar Schmidt; the bronze medal in Seoul after a semifinal loss to the Soviet Union; a silver at the Goodwill Games and a bronze at the World Championships, both coming after losses to Yugoslavia.
Any medal but gold wasn’t good enough for the media and fans in the United States. With the addition of the NBA players for the Olympics - no ground rules have been set by USA Basketball beyond that competition - it would seem dreams-come-true like the one Sousa lived out in Indianapolis won’t be repeated.
″I think about that game always. Just like you would if you won the Pulitzer Prize,″ Sousa said, ″You think about it the rest of your life.
″But we are happy about the NBA players. It’s a new challenge to see how the best basketball can be played. We know the NBA is the best, but we try to catch up and we will always have that right.
″It doesn’t matter how long it takes.″
Sousa, who played professionally in Europe for 12 years and now plays in his native country, said he watches NBA games via satellite and can’t help being boastful when he sees those players he and his teammates beat in 1987.
″When I see Rex Chapman on TV, I say I smashed him,″ Sousa said with his infectious laugh. ″People tell me I don’t play defense, but he didn’t score off me in the second half and you can look that up. I’ll always have that. Nobody can ever take that away from me. Perhaps next year that wouldn’t happen, but right now, I beat him.″
Jeffrey Granger is a native of Newark, N.J., playing on the Uruguay national team. The graduate of East Texas State said he’s been trying to tell his fellow professionals in South America what it will be like now that the NBA has gotten involved in international basketball.
″Nobody said nothing all those years when everyone else was using their professional players, so why shouldn’t the U.S. have a chance to show their best?″ he said. ″I try to explain to these guys in South America that we’ll always have the superior talent because we’re born to play the game. When the States loses, they say the States aren’t as good as it was before. I’ve tried to tell these guys, you ain’t seen nothing yet.″
END ADV For Weekend Editions Aug 10-11