|The Obamas display affection here, but fail miserably on the Kiss Cam. They are able to bounce back on a second try. (AP)|
WASHINGTON -- When Team USA was trailing by 10 in the first quarter and the leader of the free world couldn't even get a little sugar on Kiss Cam, the question became simply this: Who would have a bigger comeback, the Americans or their president?
President Obama got a second chance in the fourth quarter and capitalized, managing to land one on the First Lady's lips with 20,000 watching live -- considerably fewer than watch most of his other moves. And after a presidential pre-game speech, Team USA turned things around as well, beating Brazil 80-69 in their final tuneup on American soil before heading to the London Olympics.
|More on Team USA|
It was the fifth time Olympian Kobe Bryant had met President Obama, and so he empathized with the commander in chief misfiring on the jumbotron in the first quarter. President Obama leaned in with the Kiss Cam rolling and got no reciprocation from his wife, Michelle.
"Hey, man, PDA's not for everybody," Bryant said with a smile. "But he makes the important decisions, so it's all good."
With Obama's visit paralyzing movement into, out of and around Verizon Center throughout the game, not to mention delaying tipoff and the start of the second half, it was no wonder Team USA had a little trouble getting started. The Americans fell behind 27-17 in a listless first quarter, raising questions anew about their lack of size and how it might be exploited in the Olympics.
"It was important for us to see how teams are going to take advantage of the size," Bryant said. "And we got an opportunity to see it tonight in terms of what they were going to try to do offensively to put us in a position where we were at a deficit. And we made some pretty good adjustments."
With three players 6-10 or taller, Brazil represents one of the tallest teams the U.S. will face in the Olympic tournament -- along with Spain. And though the Brazilians outrebounded the Americans 38-30, the U.S. won the battle of second-chance points (13-5) and paint points (40-32).
"This was a big test for us just from the standpoint of playing against a team that has multiple bigs that can post up, set screens and be very active," Carmelo Anthony said. "[Anderson] Varejao's very active, Nene can go down there and get some baskets in the post. For the most part I thought we did a great job."
Said Tyson Chandler, "I don't think we struggled because of the lack of bigs. This was our first real test."
For Team USA and the president, it was a rough start and a much better finish. Once the Americans' pressure defense and transition offense kicked in, it was the kind of result our spoiled basketball public has come to expect from our NBA-stacked national teams.
"Once we decided we needed to focus on our defense and not our offense, we were able to turn the game around," said LeBron James, who led the Americans with 30 points. "... I'm not much of a jump-shooter, so I wanted to make sure I was getting in the paint on post-ups and drives to get us in the flow of the game."
Afterward, it was off to Manchester, England, and then Barcelona for more exhibition games before heading to London for the start of the Olympic tournament July 27. And despite the Americans' struggles, it was a memorable sendoff. The day before at Arlington National Cemetery, the team participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo called the highlight of the pre-Olympic festivities.
"To have the president be here to watch us play the game that we love is unbelievable," James said. "You have dreams of being in the NBA and dreams of making the jumper at the buzzer, but you never have dreams of the president actually watching you play because you don't think it's possible."
But during Obama's pregame speech in the locker room -- which Anthony called "a special moment for us" -- it wasn't all business. At one point, Bryant said he tried and failed to identify what brand of sneakers the commander in chief was wearing.
"I'm definitely going to send him some Mambas," Bryant said. "Some Presidential Mambas."
He might have to, considering that Bryant and Obama apparently disagree on the debate over which team would win in a fictitious matchup between this U.S. men's national team and the 1992 Dream Team. Bryant has said that the modern version would have a chance in one winner-take-all contest.
But Obama, speaking with the Washington Post's Mike Wise, offered the counterpoint: "The Dream Team was never down eight."
And that was only the President's second best comeback of the night.