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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Exhibition losses not a good look for U.S.

by Wally Hall | July 14, 2021 at 2:22 a.m.

There was a time when it was unheard of -- almost un-American -- for Team USA to lose back-to-back basketball games, but that's what happened to the latest version.

The games were just exhibitions, but the first loss to Nigeria -- and Hakeem Olajuwon wasn't in the building, let alone in uniform -- and Monday's 91-83 defeat to Australia came with less than two weeks until they start playing for real.

It is time for the team's coach and NBA legend Gregg Popovich to step it up.

The USA basically has dominated Olympic basketball since it was first played at Berlin in 1936. The USA has 15 gold medals, a silver and two bronze.

The only time the country didn't medal was 1980, and it took an official boycott of the games in Russia for that to happen.

Only once since 1992, when the pros started participating, has Team USA not brought home the gold.

The team was so powerful at one time that the players lived on a luxury cruise ship that was docked miles from Olympic Village.

His Airness, Michael Jordan, was allowed to put tape across the official team shoe and shirt because they were not sponsored by Nike.

The team could name the score every time it played.

Now the U.S. is sputtering in exhibition games.

Granted, the NBA Finals has kept Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns, and Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks away. But any time you have Kevin Durant, you are supposed to have a shot.

Team USA likely didn't take either exhibition game seriously, and Popovich said his guys were improving.

How are you not ready for the Olympics with a team full of elite NBA players?

It has to be mental, and Popovich is considered one of the best at getting the 6 inches between the ears ready to play.

Most likely he's letting them get a feel for each other, and that makes sense.

It just seems like a very slow start for Team USA, which always carries the biggest target on its back.

In the last officially amateur Olympics in 1988, the U.S. basketball team finished third in Seoul, South Korea. The team wasn't a real threat for the gold because it was a tall team without a shooting guard.

The last officially amateur team from the U.S. to win the gold was the 1984 team in Los Angeles. Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Sam Perkins and two Arkansas Razorbacks, Joe Kleine and Alvin Robertson, were a few members of that team.

By all accounts, no one wanted Robertson to cover them in practice except for Jordan, who saw playing against the best defender on the team as a way to improve.

Kleine used to have a workout/trophy room in his home, and he may once again after the renovations are finished on his and Dana's new home.

In that old room at the top of all of his memorabilia were the scrapbooks some ladies made for him when he was a Razorback and his Olympic gold medal.

He could find his NBA championship ring if necessary.

The Olympics begin Friday, July 23, in Tokyo and end Sunday, Aug. 8. The whole event will run with no to limited spectators.

The city has declared a state of emergency because of the surge in coronavirus cases worldwide.

Every official and athlete will be tested when they arrive and will have a four-day isolation period. Testing will be done on a regular basis, too.

The delta strain and the resurgence of cases, hospitalizations and deaths started to grow in the weeks after masks were made optional.

Yours truly is back to wearing a mask and social distancing, and I've had both shots. I'm playing it safe until this awful virus is eradicated.

Print Headline: Exhibition losses not a good look for U.S.


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