BASKETBALL: On the sidelines with TEAM USA in Manchester

TEAM USA: Not the Dream Team perhaps, but a Team Team

 

By Christopher Johnson

 

MANCHESTER–With TEAM USA blowing out opponents on the court, it’s often more insightful to watch how American superstars interact on the sidelines. 

 

Thanks to Great Britain’s basketball federation, Globalite Magazine sat court side just a few feet from the US bench.

 

Like any organization with talented people of different ages and incomes, TEAM USA has to work hard to function as a team. But thanks to a Dream Team of executives and coaches, who try to break down any barriers that might emerge, the players seem to get along well. 

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They banter, share inside jokes, and tease the opponents and refs. Team USA, though an exclusive club for uber-rich superstars, is an amazing House Party waiting to happen. These guys are a band on tour having a blast, staying in the best hotels, flanked by security guards flown in from the States, pampered by trainers, groomed by the best coaches, pursued by the most beautiful women in every city. In essence, they are young guys on a road trip, having fun. 

 

The Big Three often sit in a row.

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There’s a sense of hierarchy, and passing the torch of greatness from Kobe to Lebron to Durant. 

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Kobe and Lebron, who won the Beijing Olympics in 2008, both look to the younger KD, who the FIBA World Championship in Turkey in 2010, to carry them to another gold medal. 

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They both realize that KD is the heir to the throne, noble and pure, with a pristine image untarnished by court cases or ill-advised PR schemes. 

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Reports of Kevin Durant and Lebron James bearing grudges from their battles in the NBA finals appear overblown.

 

These two titans totally respect each other, as Magic and Bird did. 

 

During the national anthems, they stand aside each other, grooving in their shoes. 

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With a comfortable lead in the game, they share smiles. KD, with that pleasant Austin grin, laughs while King James tells a story or imitates another player. 

 

When KD speaks, in his soft-spoken drawl, King James leans over to listen.

 

These guys are so into each other, they keep the conversation going even when separated by other players.

 

Lebron is all Brawn. He’s a Warrior King. He exudes power.

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He’s perhaps not as vocal as he was at the FIBA 2006 World Championships in Japan. With an NBA championship ring to legitimize his rule, he’s in a position to lead by example, and do what he really wants to do: pass and make plays for other scorers. 

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I wouldn’t mess with him. King James is a bad-ass.

 

When a referee asks the USA bench to kindly stay off the court, King James gives him a dirty look and hollers out “Who are you?” 

 

LBJ plays hard. He can play point guard, yet defend the other team’s center in the low post. 

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The biggest contrast is between King J and Kobe. King is very much MidEast US industrial belt intensity. He’s on top of you, watching you, commanding you, constructing you.

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Kobe, meanwhile, is doing his own thing (namely, winning).

 

He needs the ball, and when he’s got it, he’s looking to beat the whole team and score. At one point, he even went 5 on 1, and then found Anthony Davis wide open. 

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It’s as if The Ball belongs to Kobe and nobody else. Kobe demands the ball, even when he’s on defense (man, can he play D). 

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Some call him aloof or arrogant. But Kobe is just being LA — a wealthy, laid-back man living the dream life in Southern California. He sits on the far west coast of the bench, chillin’, with a towel over his head, or in his mouth. Or with his shirt in his mouth. 

 

Is Kobe hungry? That Team USA shirt, made in China or not, must taste good. 

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And whatever the taste, it keeps Kobe cool. He’s really cool, even when sweating. 

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He’s got the starry-eyed smile of a financially-secure father with cute kids. Yes, he wants another gold medal. But he’s already won everything, and seems to be revelling in the moment, appreciating what might be his swansong with Team USA. 

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Kobe doesn’t cheerlead from the bench or holler out to teammates. But on the court, he takes Anthony Davis (“rook”) under his wing.

 

All the stars align in support of the rookie. “Come on Rook!” they cheer, as the second half develops into a training session for AD. These guys are not only multi-millionaire Alpha males. They are fans of the game too. They want to see the birth and development of the next legend. They spend much of the second half watching, and looking after, their little brother.

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Sitting on the sidelines waiting for a substitution, AD looks like the new kid at school.

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But on the court, he shows that he belongs at this level. 

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“Chuck it!” they holler from the bench, as AD swoops in for another rejection. 

 

Back on the sidelines, they tutor Rook on finer points.

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On offence, D-Will (Deron Williams) is surprisingly the field general of this team. Pointing fingers, huddling up teammates, he’s determined to keep intensity high. 

 

On defence, Tyson Chandler is the leader. “They don’t want it,” he says, imploring his teammates to steal the ball. 

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He’s the most vocal guy on the bench, calling out defensive signals. “That’s the same play as last night,” he calls out, as GB tries a pick n’ roll. “Stay down,” he hollers, as Carmelo Anthony prepares to get up to block a shot. “That’s it Melo. Stay down.”

 

-Melo is the team clown, the court jester to Kobe, especially. Early in the game, he lounges on the floor as if watching the game from the sofa. 

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With play at the other end, he saunters onto the court to unravel mesh caught up under the rim. He jokes with GB players, then tries to sneak under them to rebound a free throw. 

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Like Kobe, he knows when the TV camera is on him.

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After the game, he had Kobe smiling. 

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So were 17,000 fans. These two got a shoe.

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