The simple joys of watching Olympic basketball
The Olympics are upon us. This means that we once again get observe a nation hastily try to keep a mix of socio-economic unrest, corruption allegations and organizational incompetence under wraps as the world watches on. Oh, and there may even be some sports I’m told, but who knows at this rate.
Let’s get the ridiculous thought of watching basketball at the Olympic Games is somehow even distantly related to watching competitive basketball out of the way first. It is not. Perhaps if you’re not watching team US of A do their best rendition of Genghis Khan ransacking half of the world it is still a very wide field. Some teams are able to field as many as five NBA players, others can at least manage two or three. The result is pretty much pre-ordained before the first tip-off, but there are still multiple ways to enjoy basketball at the Olympics.
Scouting your Euro-Stash guys
NBA basketball is hyper competitive and hyper fun. It’s populated by some of the best athletes on the planet who have more in common with space aliens than regular human beings. These guys are faster, stronger and bigger than most human beings and an average grizzly bear — real life super heroes. Such combination of size, skill and athleticism makes it hard for some European guys to break through right away or adjust overall.
For every Dirk Nowtizki there is are at least two Andrea Bargnanis. This doesn’t deter teams from drafting across the Narrow Sea, but it does encourage them to keep their prospects in Europe. Otherwise you may just have a Darko Milicic on your hands. The Olympics is a great chance to get a look at how your coveted Euro baller holds up against equal competition and how stern they are in the face of a merciless steamrolling at the hands of the U.S. Guys like Dario Saric will finally get a shot at flexing their muscles on a somewhat international stage.
For all the varying styles of play we see in the NBA, European basketball offers a few additional kinks to the way the game is played. Sure, as the game becomes more international these differences dissipate, but certain facts hold just as true. Most of the guys aren’t as big or quick so we will see a lot more quirky pick and roll set-ups, motion offence where scrawny euro-dudes sling the ball around the three and use their bigs like point-centres. When there is an insurmountable skill gap you tend to get creative and sometimes the right kind of chemistry can produce something as devastating as the Manu euro-step.
Let’s get this straight, I am still firmly on the Swaggy Hezonja wagon. Sure, he didn’t have the best of years in Orlando, but I am more than willing to write off like 95% of that on Scott Skiles and move on. This is a guy who once hit a three in front of the opposing bench and then dapped the opposing head coach. And the head coach dapped back. You don’t do that as a normal human being, you only do that when the only thing that pulsates through your veins is pure, unfiltered and untamed confidence. Hezonja was supposed to be the European J.R. Smith and I am here for this.
The Final buzzer sounds and everyone looks up to the scoreboard. Croatia defeated team USA 101–95 behind 43 points from Hezonja. He falls to the floor, but not before removing his shirt and tossing it into the crowd. He is shirtless for the rest of the night. He is shirtless on the podium. He is shirtless as the whole team boards the flight back. His shirt is lost. He has transcended.
Suicide Squad… I mean team USA
There is no competition (as the great poet of our time Fabulous once said, he also once did a song about a respiratory function so do with this information as you will). Team USA is here to have fun, bond and remind everyone that even rich men who play sports for a living are not immune to social media faux-pas (either that or the hacker community just doesn’t like Draymond Green, which to be fair, why would they?).
This isn’t as much a tournament as it is month-long pick-up game for most of these guys, unless you’re Carmelo who will one day melt down his olympic medals into one ring. This is the Golden State of these Games, if Golden State also somehow managed to sign both LeBron and Anthony Davis this off-season, and they managed to bring the most fun of group possible. You have guys like DeAndre Jordan and DeMar DeRozan, both of whom have heard of gravity as a concept, but don’t really think of it an obstacle. You have the deadliest shooters in the League not named Steph Curry and of course you have BOOGIE!
This is how you put together a squad if you want to have fun. Kyrie Irving might just dribble for 20 seconds on every possession, deconstructing guys’ ankles like they’re Lego pieces before tossing the ball up at the vicinity of the rim as someone goes to get it. Someone might try a goddamn 720 dunk in game and I am here for it!
The What If…
What if team USA loses? What if the up is down and down is up? What if the world suddenly folds onto itself and then merges with a parallel universe? What if Brazil reveals that the lead up to the games was all a sham and reveals world class facilities where the golf course isn’t in the middle of the world’s biggest capybara reserve. What if everyone else plays basketball and team USA decides they’re doing competitive speed-walking instead? What if… What ifs are fun.
Edit: A previous version of this article indicated that Ben Simmons would be participated in the Olympics. He is not.