Friday, September 01, 2006

Greece Beats U.S. in Basketball Semis, 101-95


European champions Greece knocked the U.S. out of the FIBA world basketball championships, 101-95, and I’m feeling just a pinch of schadenfreude.

Despite recent American attempts to play a team-oriented game internationally rather than the me-first NBA game, the Greeks play “team” lots better and beat the U.S. using much greater efficiency, making 63 percent of their shots as opposed to 50 percent for the U.S.

I’m feeling a bit of happiness at the U.S. defeat for two reasons:

a) Europe is now basketball’s adoptive home, with teams and a level of play that surpass the NBA. The LA Times article noted above mentions that not a single player on the Greek team is in the NBA.

b) It was a clean victory that can’t be Photoshopped.

Let me explain this last remark. I was in Greece during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, when Marion Jones won a gold medal in the 100-meter dash. Greece’s Ekaterini Thanou won the silver medal by coming in nearly a half-second behind, which is an eternity in a short sprint, but on TV the gap looked extremely narrow.

The race’s finish was drummed into my head because Greek television replayed the race in every bar, restaurant and hotel lobby on the Peloponnesus, along with the gold-medal performance of weightlifter Pyrros Dimas. The entire country was ecstatic; few had imagined that the country’s sprinter would do so well against the legendary Jones, and Dimas’ weightlifting gold was his third, cementing his place as a national hero.

Fast-forward to getting off the plane at JFK in New York and buying Sports Illustrated, which had Photoshopped a shot of the Jones-Thanou finish to elongate the gap between them, making it look like Thanou et al. were back at the starting blocks tying their shoes or sipping coffee or something.

It was aggravating; there was nothing to be gained by exaggerating Jones’ victory in hindsight.

Fast-forward to today.If the U.S. had beaten Greece, the mostly ignored FIBA tournament in Japan would have become proof positive that American basketball was on the rebound from its recent international failures. But it didn’t—and I’m pleased because Sports Illustrated won’t bother to Photoshop an American defeat, but will probably just tell the story the way it actually happened.

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