Krzyzewski Sets the Tone Early
With Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and other stars in town to begin the final phase of their journey toward what they hope will be a gold medal, U.S. national team coach Mike Krzyzewski wanted to set the mood. So he put on some Marvin Gaye.
Krzyzewski made his collection of superstars watch Gaye's stirring R&B rendition of 'The Star-Spangled Banner' from the 1983 NBA All-Star Game before a two-hour practice Saturday at Thomas & Mack Center's Cox Pavilion. The video played in a loop on a big-screen television as players ran through their drills, serving as a reminder for a team seeking to hear its anthem from the top step of a medal stand at a major international competition for the first time since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
'Instead of having a fight song, or whatever, that's our song,' Krzyzewski said. 'I wanted them to envision the gold medal game. It's August 24 and they're out on the court. I get chills thinking about it right now. '
Half the players on the roster weren't born when Gaye sang what Krzyzewski called 'one of the greatest renditions' of the national anthem, but it was a hit with Carmelo Anthony, who hadn't heard it before Saturday. 'Anything to motivate us,' Anthony said. 'I like that soulful version.'
This is the fifth time the United States has sent professional basketball players to the Olympics. American dominance has steadily dropped since the original 1992 Dream Team obliterated the competition in Barcelona; the 2004 squad finished third in Athens.
In many ways, Team USA Managing Director Jerry Colangelo has attempted to restore the soul of American basketball. He spoke with the players on Friday about what the game has done for them. He reminded them they are 'in a position where we can give back and in a position where we might be able to change the attitude people have of us as Americans, as basketball players, as athletes worldwide. Because in the recent past, we were looked upon as arrogant, a little conceited about the game. The fact is, that's probably true. We asked for a cultural change and I think that's happened.'
If not Dream Team Reloaded, Colangelo assembled what could be called the Dream Redeem Team, with players willing to put aside three summers to restore America's place as the world's basketball power.
'I put in a lot of time. I've sacrificed a lot of time, but this experience that I've had has been unbelievable,' James said. 'This is something that I will tell my kids' kids, once I get older. And to be able to tell them about a gold medal that I won in 2008 would be the icing on the cake.'
The team, which had just one practice in Las Vegas, will visit the Statue of Liberty this morning as part of a promotional stop in New York. The Americans will reconvene in Las Vegas in late July for a training camp.
The short minicamp came at a great time for many of the players, who were dealing with their own distractions back home. Anthony was involved in trade rumors after the Nuggets' fifth consecutive first-round ouster. Tayshaun Prince was also involved in trade speculation after the Pistons were eliminated in the conference finals for the third year in a row. Guard Jason Kidd had to shoot down rumors that he was responsible for Dallas firing Avery Johnson.
Chris Bosh and Michael Redd both spoke about their new teammates -- Jermaine O'Neal and Richard Jefferson, respectively -- acquired in trades last week. Dwight Howard was dealing with a broken sternum suffered in the playoffs. And Wade was bouncing back from offseason knee surgery, and a miserable season in Miami. They've come together and put aside their worries in pursuit of the gold medal. 'Everybody has the same goal, the same focus,' Kobe Bryant said. 'I am very thankful for the opportunity to be on this team.'
All but two of the players selected have made the all-star team, but Krzyzewski said he won't have any trouble managing egos.
If anything, Krzyzewski has encouraged his players to be a little arrogant. 'We don't want a guy to reduce his ego and say, 'Okay, I'll be a role player,' ' Krzyzewski said. 'We want guys to be role players with the egos that they have with their respective teams. The guys we play against, their egos will be bigger with their respective countries than they are when they're playing for their NBA teams. They go up -- in a good way.'
The United States will be a favorite in Beijing, but Kidd said nothing is given. 'When people say you should win, that's a great challenge to be able to live up to that,' he said. 'For us that put in the work and time during the summer to prepare ourselves for the Olympics, that's what makes you tear up when you hear the national anthem; gives you goose bumps when you get the gold medal because of all the hard work you put into it, because it's not going to be easy.'