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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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August 30, 2008 10:40 PM

Olympics: Hoop Dreams

Posted by Rod Mar

Basketball took a front seat as the Olympics wound to a close, and the USA was part of both gold medal games.

For me, the women's game was an important contest to cover, since we had two "locals" in the finals. It's funny how papers decide who is a "local". Sue Bird is from New York, and Lauren Jackson is from Australia, but both play professionally in Seattle, so we consider them locals.

Meanwhile, a friend shooting for a paper in Chicago told me that they weren't considering Dwayne Wade to be a real local, even though he grew up in the Chicago area, because he plays for Miami in the NBA.

Kenya's Bernard Lagat was a local for us, his connection being that he went to Washington State University.

I wonder -- if Kevin Durant would have made the men's basketball team, would he be considered a local for us? He grew up in D.C., went to college in Texas, played one season for the Sonics who moved to Oklahoma City before the Olympics began.

Or, more interesting yet -- would the Oklahoma papers cover Durant as a local? He is on their team, but they have yet to play a game.

As if any of it really matters anyway, right? But it is fun to debate the possibilities.

In the women's gold medal game, Sue Bird played for the USA while Lauren Jackson played for Australia.

Despite being teammates in Seattle, they live together while playing for different teams in Russia, and were opponents in the Olympics.

Once the ball is in play, friends and roommates become instant opponents if they're wearing different jerseys.

Early in the game, Jackson had no problem at all setting a hard pick on Bird:



(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

Bird got to celebrate as the USA won the gold medal easily:



(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 380mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

What was surprising was the reaction of Jackson on the medals stand. She was crying and couldn't help but look wistfully over at the Americans receiving their gold medals. It's not surprising that after all the hard work, it would be a great disappointment to fall short in the final game. But Jackson's reaction was curious to me because she had to have known her team was a long shot against a group of Americans whom she's played with and against for years. Australia just didn't the depth nor talent to hang with the US squad:

>

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f5.6)

Meanwhile, Bird won her second gold medal, and she and her teammates lustily sang the "Star Spangled Banner" as the flag was raised:



(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 390mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec.,f5.6)


The following night, the USA men faced Spain in the gold medal game. Really, there shouldn't have been much doubt about the outcome of this one, either. Spain was pesky and hung around enough to make it close in the fourth quarter, until Kobe and Co. took over for a double-digit win.

While the USA's defense keyed much of their success, there was little argument that their superior talent and athleticism carried them to the gold:

LeBron James fought through this double-team and a hard foul to score and earn a three-point play:



(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 280mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

Chris Bosh took off over Spain's Felipe Reyes to score later:



(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 380mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

Spain scrapped for everything they could get their hand on, including Alex Mumbru battling for a ball on the ground and finding himself between the legs of USA's Kobe Bryant.



(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

The Spanish fans eschewed the USA tradition of wearing game jerseys of their favorite players, instead apparently donning the discarded costumes from a Spanish staging of "Grease, The Musical":



(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f4)

It's nice photographically when you can get the winners and losers in the same frame. While far from perfect, this image does sum up the gold medal contest:



(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 240mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

As the USA has proven in recent memory, talent and athleticism don't guarantee gold. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski got all his players to buy into a "team-first" concept, and they were rewarded with gold. Jason Kidd, the oldest player on the team, was first to place his medal around Coach K's neck, and the other players quickly followed:



(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

While Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson fulfilled the "local" quotient for the women's basketball team, the closest we could claim in the men's side is former Sonics player and coach Nate McMillan, who was an assistant for the men's team. He's a great guy and is very deserving of a gold medal in my book.



(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f4)

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