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Yet Again, the West's Forces Find It's No Slam-Dunk

June 18, 2004|Michael Soller

On paper, it looked like a cakewalk. The "Mission Accomplished" banner was ready. "Don't worry, it's a slam-dunk," the intelligence chiefs said.

The coalition was strong. Sure, force levels were a little low, but the game plan was strictly high-tech, an offensive display unequaled in world history. The other side? Some undersized insurgents, led by a guy named Rasheed, and by an aging leader looking for his first victory against the superpower that had beaten him before.

Of course, there were a few warning signs, but they expected to be greeted as liberators. And they had MOAB: the mother of all big men.

It will be some time before we understand the events of 6/15 and the intelligence failures that led up to them.

"The Pistons will put up more of a fight than the rest of the world expects, but the Lakers have too many weapons," forecast one Detroit News staffer. The Detroit Free Press predicted sadly, "The Lakers have too much offense in Kobe and Shaq." "Lakers have 'D' to match Detroit," said a St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline. Detroit's explosive forward was supposed to self-destruct, according to the experts who had spent years analyzing the data: "If Rasheed Wallace begins to smoke, get away immediately. Seek shelter and cover head," wrote ESPN.com.

Doubts were largely covered up or downplayed. The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel had written of "the Lakers' penchant of only winning when necessary, of sometimes getting caught up in who they are instead of what they can be." But no one was listening.

"I don't think it's a slam-dunk for the Lakers," longtime ABC announcer Al Michaels warned. He had seen the underdog come out on top before -- "Do you believe in miracles?" he asked when the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviets in 1980. But the old pro was iced out when the buildup began.

No one was ready for what actually happened when the Lakers met the swarming defense of the Ben Wallace-Tayshaun Prince-Rasheed Wallace triangle. The "coalition of the willing" came unraveled. And the reconstruction plan has some major holes.

The West was supposed to overpower the East, but on Tuesday, they were singing "We Are the Champions" in the streets of Detroit.

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Michael Soller is a PhD candidate at UCLA.

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