Even from a distance, the white headband was unmistakable. And you could hardly miss the roar from the crowd as soon as LeBron James touched the ball at the signature North Greenwich Arena in London on Wednesday night. The American was sensational as well in their quarterfinal against the Australians — a match that served up a sumptuous atmosphere. Basketball is perhaps the greatest American sport export and it showed yesterday as Greenwich bore a look very different from the usual Olympic sports.
The North Greenwich Arena had played host to gymnastics until a few days ago, and although the crowd had been raucous even then, there was hardly any sign of the showmanship that accompanies basketball. This is not a sport that comes on its own; there is much more inside the tin, than is promised outside it. For one, basketball, like all other US sports, combines sports with entertainment. The Olympics, it seems, has wholly embraced this ideal as dancers jumped onto the court at every break in play, kiss-cams loomed overhead to swoon in on unsuspecting couples and the stadium announcer moonlighted as a DJ. There is, in short, something for everyone when you come to watch this sport. Not that you really need it, especially when the Dream Team are in such fine fettle.
The loudest cheer of the night was reserved for Kobe Bryant, especially when the teams were being announced at the start of the game. The US superstar wearing the number 10 lapped up the applause but made hardly any impact during the first two quarters. Instead it was left to the maverick LeBron to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and push the USA through to the semifinals.
Kobe did arrive at the party, somewhat late. His second-half play was sensational as he grabbed a team-high 20 points, all in the second-half. The Australians never really stood much of a chance but with their crowd roaring them on to chants of “Aussie AussieAussie, oi, oi, oi” the team nicknamed the Boomers stayed close to their opponents for most of the game, before the USA just ran away with it in the final quarter. For their part, the USA were also keyed up by frequent chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” from most of the ground. Even in support, the American’s were dominating.
On this evidence, another gold medal for the USA looks almost a formality. They have completely dominated men’s basketball in the Olympics since its introduction in the 1936 Games in Berlin. The won seven successive tournaments since their bow in Berlin and when professional players were first allowed in 1992 in Barcelona, the US Dream Team won gold. Altogether, the USA men’s team have won 13 out of 16 Olympic tournaments they have participated in. The only other side to have won Olympic gold? The Soviet Union, of course.
This means that the USA’s semifinal against Argentina should almost be a formality. The Argentines fended off a strong challenge by their great rivals Brazil to sneak into the semifinal. That game too provided a great atmosphere, mostly because it acted as a substitute for the football rivalry that did not materialise. While the Brazil football team has been dominating others, Argentina inexplicably failed to make it to the Olympics. A phoney war in the basketball courts will have to whet the appetites of those who had been hoping for the clash of the South American giants. At least this time Argentina came out on top.
-With The Daily Star input