WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It's not every day that 12 of the best basketball players on Earth pop into town to play together, AND Barack Obama decides to make an appearance alongside Joe Biden, AND someone gives me free tickets to what basically turned into a basketball-themed block party.
So just for fun, here are some notes from the night that was. We'll keep it chronological and very disorganized, because hey, it was a meaningless exhibition game.
Without further ado ...
THE WOMEN'S GAME
-- There were actually two games Monday night, a women's game at 5:30 p.m. ET, and the men's game thereafter. We got there late in the second quarter, in time to watch about half the women's game. Showing up late might make me a bad sports fan, but watching the final two quarters also makes me one of the best sports fans.
-- It's hard to overstate how much better the Team USA women were than their Brazilian counterparts, so the game was never close. There were never even close possessions.
-- Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen probably could've beaten Brazil by themselves, and even if they couldn't, it would have been more fun to watch them try. But anyway ... Halftime!
-- This guy performed at halftime of both games with an act that's best described as "XTREME painting." He spent about 10 minutes here jumping around and aggressively hurling paint at the canvas while the instrumental from Linkin Park's "Numb" played in the background.
-- On the other hand, it turned out pretty well, right? All things considered, it was actually a pretty solid halftime act. He also painted Alonzo Mourning at the men's halftime. I would totally hire this guy to paint pictures of random basketball players at my wedding.
-- Anyway, the women's second half proceeded from there without anything special to report except for two missed dunks, one of which looked CERTAIN to end in a ruptured knee.
-- Thankfully everyone was fine, but even if I were four inches taller, I'm not sure you could ever convince me to try dunking. If you can't dunk consistently, you can only try so many times before something horrible happens. Especially in a game. Dunking's cool and all, but so is walking.
-- Geno Auriemma is terrifying.
-- Finally, Lindsay Whalen. She looks, well, she looks like she has no business being on the court next to Maya Moore, Candace Parker and everybody else, but then everyone starts playing, and you find out she's basically the women's basketball version of Chris Paul. Lindsay Whalen is awesome.
-- After the women's game we got a break in the action, and...
WORLDWIDE WES IN HIS NATURAL HABITAT
-- The man, the myth ... There are other pictures of Worldwide Wes out there, but this blurry photo from my Blackberry is probably the best representation of William Wesley's presence in the basketball world. I know it was him because someone yelled out "Uncle Wes!" and he came over to politic for five minutes. It's safe to say this probably happened to him 50 times over the course of the night.
-- Related: Our Worldwide Wes jokes are all fun and games until he somehow becomes NBA Commissioner and STILL refuses to do interviews or tell anyone what exactly he does.
-- I was too shy to ask for a picture and/or a six figure job at CAA, but hopefully we'll cross paths again. You know, when he's NBA Commissioner one day.
-- And then it was time for intros.
NO ONE TEAM SHOULD HAVE ALL THAT POWER
-- Yep, basically the possible coolest entrance music for Team USA.
-- It's been 20 years since the Dream Team, and we should all be used to this by now, but it's still completely insane to watch a basketball team full of superstars jog out for warmups. LeBron, Durant, Kobe, Melo, CP3, Westbrook ... America's in the building. LET'S GET IT.
-- After about 15 minutes of warmups -- honestly, the warm ups were probably the peak for Team USA Monday night -- it was time for introductions, as the PA announcer alternated one Team USA member with a member of our armed services. Ready for a little exclusive journalism?
-- Kevin Durant received by far the loudest cheers. (DMV in the building!)
-- LeBron James received a deafening mix of boos and cheers. (Global Icon!)
-- Kobe Bryant spent the intros looking like a sociopath. (Kobe Bryant is a sociopath.)
-- James Harden was laughing most of the time and had his arms around both the troops next to him, and honestly, he just looked ready to hang out for the rest of the night. (Because James Harden is the one NBA player we'd all most like to be friends with. You knew this.)
-- Anthony Davis was introduced, and my friend said, "Imagine if the Wizards had gotten the No. 1 pick and this was his first introduction to D.C. fans. How awesome would that be?" (Goddamnit.)
-- Mike Krzyzewski was introduced to massive boos. (U-S-A! U-S-A!)
-- Then Obama showed up.
BARACK IS IN THE BUILDING
-- Obama walking out to "Born In The U.S.A." somehow topped Team USA's Kanye entrance, and the rest of the stadium spent a solid five minutes twisting their bodies to snap cellphone photos of the most powerful man in the world.
-- Whether you agree with his politics or not, it's impossibly cool to have a President who wants to sit courtside at a basketball game, will stop and shake hands with fans on the way and act like none of it's really that big of a deal. The game would've been cool without him, but as you'd expect, the President takes any atmosphere to a whole new level. Also, he gave us the two most memorable highlights of the night, but we'll get to that.
-- Plus, between Obama, LeBron, Nike and Worldwide Wes, I mean, that's basically half of the #Illuminati inner circle right there. We can only assume Tupac, Mark Zuckerberg, Jay-Z, and George Washington were watching in a luxury box somewhere up top.
-- After enough gawking from literally everyone in the stadium, it took a frumpy FIBA ref to finally throw his hands up and furiously blow his whistle to get things going. And we were off.
THE GAME STARTS WITH A WHIMPER, CONTINUES WITH A WHIMPER
-- Okay, the actual basketball was pretty terrible, so we won't dwell on it too much here. Team USA looked sluggish from the start, and their offense was ... I don't know. Not really an offense? More like a mess of bodies crashing into each other and ending with some sort of clanked jumpshot. They put together a first quarter that made you wonder whether there was something wrong with the rims.
-- We shouldn't necessarily blame Coach K for this.
-- (We should definitely blame Coach K for this.)
-- Anyway, the basketball was worse than the All-Star Game. At least during the All-Star Game, the "everyone going half speed" formula translates into an unofficial dunk contest. Monday night, it was more like a bad college game where a massive favorite plays dead, the other team overachieves, only it doesn't really matter because you know the favorite's going to snap out of it eventually.
-- So while Team USA was sleepwalking through the first quarter, I started wondering about something. It's the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team, and one of the greatest legends to emerge from that team centered on the hyper-competitive practices full of superstars gunning for each other in ego-fueled pickup games that became more intense than any real game they ever played in Barcelona.
The question is, does this still happen? We had fun with Kobe's trash talk to Kyrie Irving last week, but seriously: is Kevin Durant battling LeBron every day to avenge the Finals loss? Is Russell Westbrook going at Chris Paul's neck in every practice just to prove a point? Is Kobe going after everyone?
I think the answer is probably "no" to all those questions, and without reading too much into the generational shift, it's definitely kind of a bummer.
-- More Team USA thoughts in a second. But there was also...
(photo via Michael Lee)
-- BARACK GOT DENIED.
-- Say what you want about the apocalyptic evolution of in-stadium entertainment (why does every game have a hypeman now? And why is he literally shouting at me about the Dance Cam?), but the kiss cam is above reproach. Hating the Kiss Cam is like hating pizza or Rick Ross' Twitter account.
If you can't get behind the idea of awkward couples figuring how to kiss while 20,000 people laugh and cheer and boo and desperately pray that they're not on the Jumbotron next ... What I'm saying is, if you're somehow "above" the whole Kiss Cam thing, you can go ahead and leave now. (Leave America, I mean. Just go.)
-- AND BARACK GOT DENIED.
-- It's cool, though. I was on the Kiss Cam once, and after freezing up for approximately 2.5 seconds, I freaked out and basically attacked my girlfriend's face, then sorta blacked out, and when I came back to life, I was bright red, with a friend saying, "DUDE. That was amazingly awkward." And it was. It definitely, definitely was. The Kiss Cam is great until you're on it, and then all bets are off -- and who knows what happens next. If he's reading, I just want Barack to know he's not alone.
-- But, let's be clear: Obama's probably been to hundreds of pro basketball games. He's seen the Kiss Cam. He knows the drill. It wasn't Barack who held things up on that one ...
-- On the other hand, would YOU kiss Michelle if she didn't want to be kissed?
-- So Barack got denied, leading to an entire stadium booing, and then a few seconds of shock from pretty much everyone. Partly because it was just amazing that the First Couple botched it -- they were on camera for a good 10 seconds -- and partly because, as the lady next to me asked, "Did we really just boo the President at an international sporting event?" INDEED WE DID. The Kiss Cam is no joke. It's the great equalizer.
-- We'll come back to this, but you knew that already. To the third quarter.
TEAM USA (SORTA?) STORMS BACK
-- The Americans took the lead going into halftime, and they never really looked back. That doesn't mean it was impressive. Brazil was within striking distance the entire time, it's just that Team USA was a little too talented to ever let the Brazilians back in the game.
-- In Team USA's defense, the group passed well, they got loose balls, they played good defense, but the offense never totally clicked. LeBron came on late, but the entire game could be epitomized by any number of outrageously impressive alley-oops or dunks that just barely missed. And that just happens sometimes. Especially in a meaningless exhibition game just before the entire team boards a cross-continental flight at 4 a.m. to go to England. So, let's not freak out too much after this one.
-- But okay, one thing: I don't totally "get" Deron Williams. He does a lot of things well, but it just seems like he and Carmelo are a solid step or two below all the other superstars who are supposedly peers.
-- Speaking of Deron's shortcomings, it's really too bad that Rajon Rondo isn't on this team. As my friend said, "In 20 years, someone will write a book about this Olympic team, and we'll find out how much everyone really hated him." It's the only explanation.
-- Other things you think about during the second half of a meaningless and completely one-sided exhibition game: How can we find a way for Rob Gronkowski to be in the Olympics somehow?
ALL HAIL MARCELO TIEPPO HUERTAS
-- You know Chris Paul, yes, but the other guy in that picture is Marcelo Tieppo Huertas. In addition to sounding like 16th Century Portugese royalty, he was far and away the most impressive player on the court Monday night. He has the classic "overmatched white guy" game -- lots of weird body twisting, passes that look totally desperate but somehow work, deadly floaters and layups in the lane, and constant, frenetic movement with or without the ball. Like a Brazilian Steve Nash.
His team lost, but he finished with 11 points and 13 assists, and especially next to superfreaks like LeBron, Kobe and Durant, watching Huertas whirl his way in and out of the defense for 40 minutes was way too much fun. Here's to hoping he ends up in the NBA one day.
-- And as the game wound down, yes ...
-- I'm sure people will complain it was staged, but of course it was. The second the first Kiss Cam was over, we knew they'd do another one. Being President of the United States means you're one of the only people in the country who can botch the Kiss Cam, then say, "You know what? Let's go ahead and run that back." So they did, and the crowd ended the game chanting "Four more years."
Team USA won easily down the stretch and got a standing ovation from fans who felt lucky just to see them all in one place, and everyone went home happy.
-- It's strange to walk away from a completely irrelevant, sloppy basketball game and think there was nothing more we could've asked for, but that's what happened.
Now let's hope Team USA kicks ass in London.