WASHINGTON – They seem larger than life. Then when you stand inches away from the latest version of the Dream Team, they are just large.
Meaning impressive physical specimens, exuding a special aura and ability to dominate the world stage unlike any national athletic team globally. Literally and figuratively they are monsters of the hardwood.
The USA Men’s Basketball, which touched down at the Verizon Center Monday night before departing for a series of exhibitions pre London Olympics in less than two weeks, congregated in the bowels of the arena. They were scattered next to their motor coach as if they were ready to proclaim, “we got next” at the playground asphalt outdoor court.
After a sluggish start, urged on by pro-American crowd, including President Obama, the First Lady and Vice President Biden (all who slipped in seconds before the opening tap) the Americans held off Brazil, 80-69, before a sold-out house.
It completed a doubleheader sweep of the Brazilians as the women’s team won handily.
Sorry no samba dancing in the streets, after all this is America’s game. The impromptu, rhythmic dance (3 steps per measure) is usually reserved when Brazil takes the pitch. (The 2014 World Cup will be played in Brazil.)
Security was tight Monday night. It’s always airtight when the president makes a public appearance. The boundaries of the arena were secured by 5 o’clock. Tow trucks buzzed the neighborhood and began hooking cars. Once the first round of cars were headed to the tow lot, several motorists sprinted from the nearby eateries as though Josh Lewis and Tom DeTone of the cable TV show Repo Games were lurking in the shadows.
Ah, the midsummer rush of crazed tourists, toting their families and fearing the towing charges that would be the difference between dining at reputable sit-down joint or fast food until their check-out day.
Inside there was a mixture of responses and few surprises.
Fans cheered and jeered lustily. For the most part flippancy was dormant.
Local hero Kevin Durant, who attended Montrose Christian School in nearby Rockville, Md., received the loudest ovation. James Harden and Chris Paul’s endorsements followed. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, both villains during the NBA campaign, received a mixture of responses.
James won over the locals, pumping in a game-high 30 points on Monday. The Americans, who shot poorly from three-point range and played below average defensively (at least in the first half), were amped.
With three Olympic tune-ups left in Europe, Coach K and his staff should have things buttoned up by pool play. Brazil, Argentina and Spain are the main competition but Americans are clear-cut favorites to strike gold … again.
The Verizon Center sounded like the Democratic Convention (scheduled this summer for Charlotte, N.C.) when the prez and veep ducked in. Yes it is commonly known the District of Columbia is a democratic stronghold as the few GOPs who booed were quickly out-throated. After all is a political hotbed and a presidential election looms.
The revelry began five hours before tipoff of the men’s game outside the arena. Supporters were donning their USA jerseys while other wore the strip of their favorite NBA player.
On this night, NBA rivalries were put aside. Our game, our sport, our pride became the focus. From Spokane to Harlem to Chicago to South Beach collectively one nation was indivisible for 40 minutes of superstardom serenaded by The Spar Spangled Banner.
Brazilians also flashed national pride, with mainly blue and yellow soccer jerseys popping up on each street corner. At the sidewalk cafes ringing the perimeter of the arena, fans of both teams were sharing a toast.
“To another basketball gold medal,” said a 20-something USA supporter as three of his cohorts clinked pints of ale.
“Hey, what about the women’s team,” chimed in another.
A second toast ensued for girl power: Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink.
When the women’s game tipped after 5:30 p.m. EDT, there was barely a handful of pilgrims in the stands. By the end of the third quarter, chants of U-S-A echoed throughout the cavernous room at the corner of 6th and G Streets only a few Metro stops from the White House and Capitol Hill.
At halftime, the Americans were up 20 points. That’s when performance artist David Garibaldi finished his portrait of Theresa Edwards, one of the greats of the game, at midcourt with a soundtrack choreographing the final brush strokes of paint. Edwards sheepishly sauntered to the canvas and quickly approved her likeness.
And the crowd approved of the women’s efforts, a 99-67 blowout of the South Americans. The Americans’ lineup of Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles, Diana Taurasi and Lindsay Whalen were overwhelming. Whalen had 21 points and had her name engraved on a commemorative large silver cup by Tiffany after being named the game’s top player.
Think about the United States’ depth when Seimone Augustus, Sue Bird, Tina Charles and Angel McCoughtry are reserves.
About the biggest crowd reaction came with 30 seconds left in the game when McCoughtry’s breakaway dunk attempt (and for triple-digits on the scoreboard) careened wildly off the iron. It didn’t matter the atmosphere oozed red, white and blue. The final horn signaled taps for the Brazilians and a salvo for the world.
As the Americans depart today for Europe, only gold matters. Anything other than a sweep for USA Basketball is not an option. It would take an upset of larger-than-life proportions.
Christopher Lawlor is a Senior Writer for Blue Media and compiles the Blue Star Go-To 25 national boys and girls high school basketball rankings during the season. Lawlor, an award-winning writer, is a voting committee member and advisor for several national high school events, including the McDonald’s All-American Games. He previously wrote for USA TODAY and ESPN.com, where he was the national preps writer, while compiling the national rankings in four sports. He also managed the Gatorade national high school player of the year award program for a decade at Scholastic, Inc.
Latest from Christopher Lawlor
- USA Basketball Women's U16 National Team invites 33 trialists
- Frenchman, Wiggins power World Selects over USA, 112-98, at Nike Hoop Summit
- World Select Team finalized for Nike Hoop Summit
- Go-To 25 Boys’ Basketball Final Rankings, April 10, 2013
- Go-To 25 Girls’ Basketball Final Rankings, April 9, 2013