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BEIJING 2008

In the end, a safe rout for U.S. men

In a game watched by a billion or so, China plays the Americans close before fading in a 101-70 defeat.

August 11, 2008|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- Now back to representing our country.

After days of drooling over speculative, or imaginary, $50-million-a-year offers, the U.S. men's basketball team finally started Olympic competition Sunday night.

Fortunately for the U.S., all 12 players were still here. That was too many for host China which, with all the billions it spent on infrastructure and sports venues, should have thrown in another $100 million to hire away one or two key Americans.

In the game that a billion or so people waited all their lives for, the Chinese stayed with the U.S. for 15 minutes before the lights went out in a 101-70 U.S. romp.

With President Bush in the stands and the biggest TV audience for any basketball game, this one had history draped all over it.

Said China's Yao Ming: "It's a treasure for my memory in my life."

Indeed, China had 15 minutes to treasure, making eight of its first 12 three-point tries, including one by Yao on its very first possession.

The Chinese led by four points early, then, after the U.S. opened up a seven-point lead, came back to tie the score.

At that point, with Kobe Bryant off to a slow start, the best Laker on the court was newly signed Sun Yue, their second-round pick in 2007. A 6-foot-9 Toni Kukoc-type forward who played point guard, Sun stood up to Bryant's relentless pressure and made his first two three-point tries.

At that point, reality also set in with a vengeance. The Chinese missed 15 of their last 17 threes while the U.S., which had started one for 15 on threes, made six of its last nine. It turned into a track meet with dunks, with the U.S. outscoring the Chinese the rest of the way, 72-41.

Showing what a clash of cultures this was, the Chinese, who take a dim view of the star system, brought forward Zhu Fangyu to the interview room instead of Yao.

Or maybe it wasn't such a clash. U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who takes a dim view of the star system too, didn't bring Bryant, LeBron James or high scorer Dwyane Wade (19 points), but backup center Chris Bosh.

Nevertheless, even if this is one world with one dream, it still has a lot of languages and idioms, which made the postgame news conference a show in itself.

When Bosh was finished, the moderator told him, "OK, thanks you, Bosh."

Then there was this priceless question: "Coach K, what did you do to get all the players to kill their own super egos?"

"Well, I'm going to tell them that you said they had super egos," Krzyzewski said. "I don't think our players would think that, but they do think they're very good players.

"Our players have been magnificent. . . . It's been easy for me. I haven't had to destroy or kill anything."

Then there was the media person who noted the presence of the president, the billion viewers -- right or wrong, that's the figure everyone is going with -- asking if this wasn't "the mother of all games."

To get a billion viewers, more than 80% of China's total population of 1.3 billion would have had to be watching on TV.

On the other hand, with Beijing turning into a ghost town Friday, with the streets empty and everyone inside watching the opening ceremony on TV, who knows?

In any case, it'll just be basketball for the U.S. after this, starting with Tuesday's game against Angola. Even if the Americans can't shoot a lick, they're still playing hard on defense and, best of all, levelheaded.

"We're not trying to be the Dream Team," said Bosh, asked to compare the two. "We just want to be a solid U.S. team, the best team in this tournament.

"You know, the Dream Team back in '92, we can't try to compare to those guys because they've done so much more than we have. We're just trying to be the best team we can be. We're just trying to come out and prepare and not underestimate anyone and just play our basketball.

"Maybe everybody will make a title up after that, but for right now, we still have a long road ahead of us."

OK, thanks you, Bosh.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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