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Steve Kelley: At the Olympics

Steve Kelley, a Seattle Times sports columnist for 25 years, is covering his eighth Olympics. He'll share news and tidbits as the Beijing Games unfold.

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August 10, 2008 10:37 AM

China celebrates hoops

Posted by Steve Kelley

Carmelo Anthony threw the ball away and China had its first possession of its home Olympics. Then, as the shot clock ticked down, Yao Ming wandered freely at the top of the three-point line, got the ball and hit the first three-pointer on home soil in Chinese Olympic history.

And the crowd, which was buzzing with anticipation before the game like an old Vegas crowd on a big-time fight night, went wild.

Thus began the most entertaining 31-point blowout I've ever witnessed.

As the reviled (at least in our hometown) commissioner of the NBA David Stern knows all too well, China loves basketball. If he wants the league to capture some of its old pizzazz, he should move Memphis to Beijing. The Griz finally would have a home that loved them.

This was the kind of full house that would warm the hearts of every NBA capitalist. If Clay Bennett was watching, he'd probably already be planning to move his team out of OKC and situate it right here in the new Olympic Basketball Gymnasium. This Glitterdome has a capacity of 18,000 and even has luxury suites. It was made for the NBA.

But back to the game, which was won by the U.S. 101-70. In front of the world's most appreciative audience, China hung with the Americans for 15 minutes. The Americans are still having trouble hitting any shot besides a dunk, which helped keep it close.

China was able to take an 11-7 lead and still was tied with the faster, stronger U.S., 29-29, with six minutes left in the half. And for just a moment, this was beginning to feel like Lake Placid in 1980, kind of a miracle on hardwood.

(Before I forget, after the player introductions, the crowd lustily sang along with the public address version of the Chinese National Anthem and it was absolutely stirring.)

At times this crowd was a little schizophrenic, rooting for both teams at the same time. (In the player introductions, Kobe Bryant, not Yao Ming, got the loudest cheers.) They love their basketball here and they obviously were thrilled that their country's first game was against the best collection of basketball players in the world.

Eventually, the Americans' smothering defense wore down China's weak-handled backcourt. Dwayne Wade, another Beijing favorite (heck, this crowd would love Calvin Booth), created havoc and ignited fastbreaks.

The U.S. transition game is so good it makes the court seem like it's about 60-feet long. These young Americans looked to run every time they touch the ball, They have point guards -- Jason Kidd, Wade, Chris Paul and Deron Williams -- who can deliver the ball. And this is the best set of finishers in the history of the sport.

China still only trailed 49-37 at the half, but LeBron James, Bryant, Wade and Chris Bosh led a 14-3 run that ended the third quarter with a 74-48 lead. The run was so spectacular that the fans didn't know whether to feel elated or depressed.

The truth is, this crowd could leave its beautiful new home happy with the knowledge this is the best Chinese National Team ever. Its goal is to make it out of group play and into the quarterfinals. It's a difficult, but reachable goal.

But the crowd also can be excited about the way the United States, the home of their real hoop heroes, played. Since China won't win Olympic gold, I get the feeling the fans would like nothing better than to see the U.S. reclaim its championship.

And now the kiss of death.

I think the U.S.is going to cakewalk through this tournament. Defending Olympic champion Argentina is a shell of itself, already 0-1. Spain in the only reasonable threat to the United States' redemptive run to gold.

In some games, the U.S. still might need Michael Redd or Bryant to punish a team from the outside. But the Americans' defense is the best in the world. And it is playing together like no team since the Dream Team.

This team is so athletic, powerful and deep. In the fourth quarter, when coach Mike Krzyzewski cleared his bench, his "scrubs" were Redd, Carlos Boozer, Tayshaun Prince, Willians and Paul.

Yikes.

But the real story in Sunday's opening game was the great affection China showed for the game. Beijing deserves to host this tournament. For that matter, it deserves to host the Griz, or the New Orleans Hornets, or the Minnesota Timberwolves, or any of a half dozen foundering NBA franchises.

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Posted by Van Dyke

8:07 AM, Aug 11, 2008

Did you notice, there were no white men on America's Olypic team. What happened to DIVERSITY and EQUALITY!?!? Further, and did you notice TWO American presidents sitting there watching it?!?!

R W Van Dyke

Posted by Patrick

11:50 AM, Aug 11, 2008

"The Griz finally would have a home that loved them."?
You are inferring that the Grizzlies were not loved in Vancouver; which is wrong.
The Grizzlies left Vancouver because of the same type of ownership dishonesty and deceipt that cost Seattle its Sonics.

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