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Saturday, August 02, 2008

LeBron James: "We Have to Be a No Excuse Team"

The first episode of "Road to Redemption" detailed Team USA's history in FIBA competition since NBA players began participating in 1992: Team USA won Olympic gold medals in 1992, 1996 and 2000 plus a FIBA World Championship in 1994 (Team USA won a bronze medal in the FIBA World Championship in 1998 when college and CBA players replaced NBA players due to the NBA lockout). Since 2000, though, Team USA has experienced a series of failures: a sixth place finish in the 2002 FIBA World Championship, a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics and a bronze medal in the 2006 FIBA World Championship.

The current squad--assembled by Managing Director Jerry Colangelo and coached by Mike Krzyzewski--consists of players who made a three year commitment to turn the program around. The initial result--a 10-0 sweep to the gold medal in the FIBA Americas tournament in 2007--was good but that was just a warmup to the main event: the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Two key additions to the team are Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd, the new starting backcourt. Kidd has an undefeated record in FIBA play, including winning a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics, while Bryant--who called himself the "Doberman" after shutting down Lithuanian guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, a longtime Team USA nemesis--has become the team's defensive stopper, something that no one on recent Team USA rosters was willing and/or able to do.

Parts two and three of "Road to Redemption" look at Team USA's bonding process on and off the court during the month leading up to the Olympics. Kidd went on a golf outing with young point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams. As they rode in golf carts, Kidd told them, "Whatever I can do to pass on from who I've learned from--Stockton, Magic and Gary (Payton)--that is my duty, to share with you guys. You guys are too talented and I want you guys to be successful." The three point guards joked around as they staged an impromptu closest to the pin contest, with the losers having to do 25 pushups. "Or we can do your age--we can do 50," quipped Williams to Kidd. Kidd, playing in flip flops, put two balls on the green, but Williams landed the closest shot to the pin, so Kidd and Paul had to do the pushups. "J, we'll give you five off--you get a senior discount," Williams said.

"I think golf is 10 times harder than basketball--50 times," Williams added afterwards.

"I just showed that if you don't practice you will be trash," Paul added with a rueful laugh.

Coach Krzyzewski gave each player a notebook that has a picture of the gold medal on the first page. During one practice he gathered all of the players around to watch a video of Marvin Gaye's classic rendition of the national anthem prior to the 1983 NBA All-Star Game, telling the team, "That is going to be our song."

"I believe in visualization," Coach Krzyzewski explained later. "Let's put a vision in your mind about being on that gold medal stand and hearing our song."

Also, the entire team took a cruise to see the Statue of Liberty. "What we're trying to do is develop a spirit where we're not just saying something, we're showing them something," said Krzyzewski. "And then allowing them to feel something." I agree with Coach Krzyzewski about the importance of visualization and the power of symbols to motivate and inspire people.

"This is the first thing a lot of people saw when they came to this country," said Bryant of the Statue of Liberty. "This is where a lot of dreams started for a lot of different people and families. You have a dream in America where you can literally go from the bottom to the top. This is our dream here now, to bring a gold medal back to this country."

During one of Team USA's meetings, LeBron James delivered perhaps the clearest and strongest message about what this team's mentality has to be. Echoing a theme that is very familiar to anyone who follows James' Cleveland Cavaliers, he said, "When we go across these waters and we go play, we got to be a 'no excuse' team. What I mean is, it's going to be us against the world and we got to look at it that way. We can't blame the refs, we can't blame the crowd, we can't blame anything else on anybody. We are in a position right now where we control our own destiny. I know I'm guilty of this sometimes: I sit at home and say, 'If I had Dwight Howard on my team or if I had Carlos Boozer on my team or if I had Chris Paul as my point guard I would win an NBA championship.' So what's my excuse now? I got all y'all on this team, so what's my excuse now? Do we all have an excuse? We don't. This is everything that we always dreamed of, of having that guy next to you and winning something. I'm excited and I know you guys are. This is what I've always wanted, playing alongside Carmelo Anthony, playing alongside Jason, playing with Kobe. I don't have no excuse now--none of us."

Bryant added, "To me, defense and rebounding wins every time, no matter where you play--you play here, you play on Mars, you play anywhere you want: if you can shut somebody down and rebound the basketball then you're going to win no matter who you are playing against. That's the standard we have to set."

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:43 PM



At Monday, August 04, 2008 2:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love your writing, David. It's funny that LeBron says he wishes he could play with Carlos Boozer. In his rookie season he actually did play with Carlos Boozer! Wonder if there's still any lingering resentment from Bron toward Booz for leaving. With Ilgauskas, that would be one hell of an offensive frontcourt.

At Monday, August 04, 2008 3:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I didn't comment on the irony of LeBron talking about playing with Boozer because I figured that most NBA fans would notice that on their own but I did a double take when he said that.

Even though listing Boozer was a moment of unintentional comedy, LeBron's point is well taken: all of the stars of the NBA dream about playing with other stars, so this is a chance for them to accomplish something great together.

At Tuesday, August 05, 2008 9:40:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

I saw that Marvin Gaye with the USA team as a Nike commercial. A very beautiful site.


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