LONDON: The U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team is favored to win again, and some think it’s a matter of the players just showing up.
If that’s the case, they could be in real trouble.
Showing up anywhere has been difficult for the Americans, whose traveling woes have nothing to do with a call by the referee.
Friday they arrived nearly 20 minutes after the scheduled start for their opening news conference, making anxious photographers wait extra long for that first click when LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the rest of the reigning gold medalists walked in.
“Two days we’ve had nothing but issues with transportation. No one’s fault in particular, just general,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “We’ve been through so many neighborhoods, when this is over we’re going to be able to do a little history on the city of London.”
The bus carrying the U.S. team Friday drove to the wrong gate, which when the heightened security is factored in at an Olympics venue, might as well be the wrong city. The team had a similar problem on its first trip to see the basketball arena Thursday, along with going to the wrong place after its arrival in London from Barcelona, Spain.
U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski joked that he wants his team to be as consistent with its shooting as the team’s bus drivers have been with their loss of direction.
“So far we’ve gotten lost on every one of our bus trips, so right now it feels chaotic,” he said.
They’ll hope to have an easier time figuring out the route to the gold medal podium.
Before arriving in London, things had been going more smoothly for the Americans. They fit in five exhibition victories around the casinos of Las Vegas, a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington before taking a day off to enjoy the sun and shops of Spain on Wednesday.
U.S. guard Russell Westbrook looked like he had just come from Barcelona, wearing shower shoes along with his U.S. basketball warm-up suit.
The Americans aren’t quite the megastars they were four years in Beijing, where basketball was wildly popular. Still, they’re different than almost all the other athletes here, that being reinforced when the communications official reminded media that the news conference time shouldn’t be used for player autographs or personal photos.
But the players are trying to act like regular Olympians, touring the athletes’ village Thursday and meeting fellow American competitors such as sprinter Tyson Gay and swimmer Jason Lezak.
“It got crazy, it got hectic, but in a fun way,” forward Carmelo Anthony said. “Everybody wanted pictures. We was out there just having fun, mingling with the other athletes, not just from the U.S. but from other countries. It feels good to be loved around the world.”
Chris Paul said it’s a mutual lovefest.
“I was explaining to [Westbrook] and [Kevin Durant] what’s so cool about the Olympics is they are on the biggest team you’ll ever be on,” Paul said. “You see all the athletes with USA T-shirts on … we’re all teammates.”
U.S. vs. world
They begin play today against France, a medal contender led by San Antonio Spurs All-Star Tony Parker that features six NBA players, trailing only the U.S. for most in the field. The French are in a group of teams along with Spain, Argentina and Brazil — all of whom lost to the Americans in exhibition play — who could challenge a U.S. team that believes it’s better than it was in 2008 but recognizes that its opponents are, too, and won’t take anything for granted.
“I think there’s always a target on our back and every team, their biggest game is against us,” swingman Andre Iguodala said. “I feel like some teams are happy with just losing by less than 10. We had exhibition games where teams, they lost, but they were just happy it wasn’t a 50-point game. And then sometimes even back home, like, we can’t be arrogant. We have to be humble and we have to go in every game, play hard, play respectful, because anything done the wrong the way on our end will be blown out of proportion. So we’re kind of, that microscope has been put on us.”
The Americans were never threatened in 2008 until the gold-medal game, when they pulled away in the final two minutes to beat Spain by 11. They had some difficult stretches in exhibition play, trailing Brazil and Spain after one quarter and having a 20-point lead cut to four in the final minutes by Argentina, so they aren’t assuming a simple path back to gold.
“I don’t think anything’s going to be easy,” guard Deron Williams said.
Not even the bus rides.