Vital Signs

Real World Basketball

“I don’t care who didn’t play for the American team,” boasted Dejan Bodiroga, captain of the Yugoslav national team that won the gold medal on September 8 at the 2002 World Basketball Championship for Men in Indianapolis.  “That is their problem, not ours.  We won the game, and that’s what only matters.  If they want to beat us, they’ll have to send some better players next time.”  The Yugoslavs beat Argentina to win the gold medal, after a shocking victory over the United States in the quarterfinals.

It is true that Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, and Jason Kidd did not play for the American team, the first to be made up of NBA players to lose in international competition.  However, Bodiroga’s point is also valid: There is no reason why Yugoslav players should feel any less triumphant.  The Americans lost three games in this championship, the gold medal, and their reputation for being unbeatable.  And whatever anyone may say, it is much harder to defeat the team that showed up to play against you than the one that did not.

Nor was the American team a bad one; quite the contrary.  Each of the 12 players is an NBA star.  Reggie Miller is an All-Star veteran who won gold medals at the World Championship in Toronto in 1994 and at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.  Jermaine O’Neal was the most...

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