I love some of these birthplaces.
Gisborne, New Zealand. Persiceto, Italy. Canberra, Australia. Bruges, Belgium. Joinville, Santa Catalina, Brazil. Bahia Blanca, Argentina. Oh, and how about Cormeilles-en-Parsis, Val-d’Oise, France?
Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Christiansted, US Virgin Islands.
Well, yes, then there’s New York City and Los Angeles and Ontario, Calif., and Hobbs, N.M., and — please, let’s not ever forget — Concord, N.H., home of Matt Bonner, who with his two championship rings stands alone as the most decorated Granite State native ever to play in the NBA.
The city of San Antonio has to share its beloved five-time champion Spurs with the world.
I’m sure Boris Stankovic gave himself one or two toasts as he watched the Spurs annihilate the Heat from wherever he was in Serbia last Sunday evening. For the Spurs are the ultimate vindication of the Dream Team, which was all his idea.
Yes, indeed, the 2013-14 world champion Spurs are precisely what Stankovic had in mind when, as head of FIBA (the governing body of all basketball outside the United States), he personally created a new basketball world by begging and cajoling a very reluctant American basketball hierarchy to send their best professionals to the Olympics and world championships.
“Let them experience the fiery breath of the dragon!” he thundered. “Only then will we know what it takes to be truly great in this sport!”
Actually, I made that up. But it really was kinda like that in his mind. He was a man passionately in love with basketball. He knew that the very best players in the world were native-born Americans and that the only way for the rest of the world to reach that level was to have them see just how far the bar had been raised by direct competition.
As explained by (full disclosure: my friend) Jack McCallum in his indispensable 2012 book “Dream Team,” “As he [Stankovic] watched the pro stars of the 1970s on TV — among them Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, plus his two favorites, Walt Frazier and Pete Maravich — it began to gnaw at him that America’s best players would never participate in the Olympic Games.” “The hypocrisy was what got to me,” Stankovic said. “And there was a practical side. My concern was trying to make the game of basketball strong, to grow it, and yet there was this separation. It became impossible for me to tolerate.”
Thus, the One and Only Dream Team, and their “Beat Me, Whip Me, Take My Picture” destruction of all competition in the Barcelona Olympics. Fine. Good. Point made. We’re the Hoop Kings.
The world watched. Fourteen-year-old Dirk Nowitzki watched from Wurzburg, Germany. Fifteen-year-old Manu Ginobili watched from Bahia Blanca, Argentina. Ten-year old Boris Babacar Diaw-Riffiod watched from — how much fun is it to say this? — Cormeilles-en-Parsis, Val-d’Oise, France. Or wherever he was at the time. Seven-year-old Tiago Splitter watched from Joinville, Santa Catalina, Brazil. Or wherever he was at the time. “Guess I have to get to work on my game,” was the common thought, be it uttered in German, Spanish, French, or Portuguese.
The Dream Team had trailed once, for 15 seconds, in the gold medal game against Croatia. Two years later, a well-stocked NBA All-Star team trailed multiple times en route to its gold at the world championships in Toronto. No more pictures. No more autographs. The Fear Factor was gone forever. Now it was all about true competition.
By 2000, in the Sydney Olympics, we were life-and-death with Lithuania, sweating out a potential game-winner by Sarunas Jasikevicius. In 2002, we lost to Argentina at the Worlds. And to several other teams. We finished sixth. By 2006, 14 years after “Beat Me, Whip me, Take My Picture,” the USA was the champion of nothing. Argentina had the 2004 Olympic gold. Spain had the 2006 world title.
Boris Stankovic was smiling.
And I’m sure he’s smiling again, not, Lord knows, because he is anti-American, because is most certainly is not. He is smiling because the team reigning over the best basketball league in the world has, on its 15-man roster, eight players born and raised outside the United States of America. Aron Baynes (born in New Zealand, raised in Australia), Corey Joseph (Canada), and Patty Mills (Australia) all played collegiately in America. But Marco Bellinelli (Italy), Boris Diaw (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Tony Parker (Belgium-born, raised in France), and Tiago Splitter (Brazil) were all developed completely outside the American sphere of basketball influence.
And then there’s Tim Duncan, fortunate enough to have been born and raised on St. Croix, and thus spared the sinister influence of the evildoers from the AAU. But that’s another story, for another day.
Mr. Stankovic, here’s to you. The San Antonio Spurs are your legacy.