Lamar Odom missed two point-blank layups, which is what he does. Chauncey Billups made like Allen Iverson and shot every time he touched the ball, which he doesn't do. This was the fourth quarter of the United States' game Monday against Brazil in group play of the FIBA World Championships, and there I was, growling at the television. There I was -- furious.
Furious at Odom for being the same knucklehead for the USA in Turkey that he is for the Lakers in Los Angeles. Furious at Billups, on the team for his veteran leadership, jacking up shot after shot while one of the most talented pure scorers in the world, teammate Kevin Durant, went ignored on the wing. Furious at Andre Iguodala for saving the ball under the rim to the other team for an easy Brazil basket. Furious at U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski for playing these numbskulls.
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Furious at all of them, until it occurred to me: You're not mad at them.
You're mad at people who aren't on the court. Or in the building. Or in Turkey at all.
Mad at them, and more. Disgusted? Sure. I'll go there. I'm disgusted.
There's a saying. It could be Biblical, it might not, it doesn't matter. You've heard the saying, and it applies to the ingrates who couldn't be bothered to play for the 2010 USA Basketball team:
|Don't blame Lamar Odom for LeBron James' decision to skip the World Championships. (Getty Images)|
Speaking as a cog in the machine that has helped give LeBron, Kobe and Co. an absurd amount of fame and fortune for working eight or nine months a year, let me tell you what I expect:
I expect them to represent our country -- to represent me -- in major international competitions.
Is that too much to ask? If you're nodding, explain yourself. Defend yourself. Defend why these filthy rich prima donna athletes have the right to earn more money in a year than my whole block will earn in a lifetime, yet they don't have the obligation to play for our country.
We're the reason they make this money. We are, you and me. We buy tickets and jerseys and whatever products these athletes are paid to push. We write stories about these guys. We read those stories. We do all of that and it drives up their value -- and we're fine with that. We don't begrudge Deron Williams or Chris Bosh their millions. We don't begrudge LeBron his Nike deal or Kobe his fleet of luxury cars.
But there's a string attached. To whom much is given, much is expected. And here's what I expect. Here, I hope, is what you expect as well:
Play for the United States. Play for us in something as important as the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
I wouldn't be comfortable sitting here, demanding they win the thing. But I'm more than comfortable demanding that they play.
This happens all the time, of course. It's not just Kobe, although it's starting to feel like it is. In 2002, when the United States finished a dismal sixth at the World Championships, Kobe turned down a spot on that team as well. He had company. Shaquille O'Neal said no. Kevin Garnett said no. That event was held in Indianapolis, which is in Indiana, which is in the United States. And still, our best wouldn't play.
That 2002 U.S. team was so watered down, Raef LaFrentz was on the roster. So was Nick Collison. It was like a crappy Kansas convention. Don't ask me how USA Basketball missed out on Jeff Boschee or Adonis Jordan or Scot Pollard.
The 2008 Olympics, though, brought out our best. Everyone wanted to be part of the Redeem Team, so the NBA's superstars rose from their 27-piece leather couches and rode in their Escalades to the airport for the flight to Beijing, where the United States won the gold medal and red-white-and-blue patriotism was at hand.
Two years later, we have Lamar Odom missing from 2 feet.
The United States won Monday, but just barely, and luckily. America held off Brazil 70-68, and that's with two of Brazil's best players out because of injury. And Brazil is so unimpressive that those two players are Nene and Anderson Varejao -- NBA mediocrity.
Then again, NBA mediocrity is almost what the United States has been reduced to. Dwight Howard couldn't be bothered, so Tyson Chandler is on the U.S. team as a center. No Chris Bosh? That's OK, we have Kevin Love. Consistent Carlos Boozer is out. Flaky Lamar Odom is in.
There I go again, being mean to the wrong person. This isn't Lamar Odom's fault. He shouldn't be on the court for almost every minute of an important international game -- but who else is Krzyzewski going to play? Tyson Chandler?
Meanwhile, the best basketball players this country has to offer are spending the summer doing whatever it is they do with all that money and all that free time. Don't tell me, because I don't care where they are.
I'm furious about where they're not.