FreeDarko at the hem of USA Basketball
So USA Basketball was nice enough to put FreeDarko on press row to crash the USA-PR game for pictures and words. Right behind Peter May and Chris Sheridan and right in front of the ESPN2 second unit. The atmosphere in the arena was amazing. The military presence probably would have added a little more intimidation if both teams hadn’t been American citizens. And whatever Shoals has to say about Dwyane Wade, his little dunk, stumble, salute was perfect and threw the place into a frenzy.
USA 114, Puerto Rico 69 says it all, but the real question is why Carlos Arroyo plays like the second coming of AI in his prime during international competition and then plays like he doesn’t give a rat's when he’s in the backcourt with the Jazz/Pistons/Magic.
The other question is what to call the look sported by Daniel Santiago. Neo-Caribo-Rambis? Bespeckled Borricua? He’s from the West Texas town of Lamesa (which sounds better when you sing it) so even the Puerto Ricans are bigger in Texas.
Lastly, am I the only one who has a hard time getting behind a Puerto Rico team that doesn’t include José “Piculín” Ortiz (speaking of players who teased the Jazz with excellence in international play)?
Anyway, here's what it looks like when Vegas rolls out the red carpet for FreeDarko:
Brad Miller at Best Buy about five hours before the game. The guy from the hotel was taking forever to pick him up, so he had time to chat and give FreeDarko an exclusive inside look at the US game preparation, which included stocking up on DVDs for the trip to China. He hates it when you miss the last five minutes of a bootleg movie because the guy filming gets dragged out of the theater.
He told me that the team goal for the night was to win by 50. He was dead serious, too. Anybody who thinks this US team isn’t focused on smothering the competition hasn’t chatted with Brad Miller at Best Buy while he holds a FreeDarko shirt.
Lenny Wilkins with the Air Force color guard
Bill Walton prepares for the broadcast. He was the rockstar in the room, and had more kids clamoring for his autograph than Shane Battier. I guess he had a better year.
Jerry Colangelo moves like a phantom before the game. My camera doesn’t lie, and Colangelo and LeBron are the only ones who showed up blurry in every photo. They transcend the photographic medium.
Hinrich warms up before the game. The place was already more than half full more than an hour before the game. The inclusion of guys with actual college experience like Hinrich, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade seems like a great move. They seemed like they enjoyed picking up their man full court for the first time in a long time.
I bet Bosh does a great velociraptor impression at parties. How perfect is it that he’s in Toronto? It’s like there’s some kind of mascot/player anthropomorphism involved here. I guess that means the Bucks will be trading for Daniel Santiago soon.
Walton gives Chris Paul some pointers before the game.
No one treats Paul like a rookie, maybe because he isn’t anymore, and also because he’s older than a lot of the guys on the team
The place went nuts when LeBron came in to warm up.
The new FIBA ball. I’ve been ruined by Salt Bagel’s comment about the dark psychological humor of the striping. And yet, there were several palming violations called during the game.
If the new NBA ball looks like a crappy playground ball, this FIBA ball looks like the plastic ball left in the elementary school toy box. Or a tetherball.
Voice of America doing their pre-game show. This guy had a great faux-hawk mullet. Talk about business in the front.
Who had the most points out of those pictured? Antawn Jamison, of course
Paul Silas spends all his time in a Zen place. He was incredibly nice.
Dr. J chats with coach Marc Iavaroni. Soon after this picture was taken they announced his name over the PA system and the place gave him a well-deserved standing ovation. I spoke with him about the ABA for a bit, and he didn’t even mind my telling him that I have a picture of him on the New York Nets playing the Virginia Squires in 1976 in front of about 200 fans. He's so smooth it's crazy.
Jim Gray next to Silas, behind Dr. J. While I was talking with Dr. J., he interrupted me to grab Gray and congratulate him for being newly single. He joked that he was probably working it with every girl in the building, while Gray tried to change the subject.
Jermaine O’Neal and someone who I should probably know, watching from the stands a few feet away from Chuck Daly, Spencer Haywood, and Donyell Marshall.
Even Pat Croce made a guest appearance.
Donyell was also all alone, no crew, no one with him. Still, he was thrilled to be there.
Is there a modern-day equivalent to Chuck Daly? He’s got style and gravitas and I couldn’t seem to get closer than 20 feet.
The press room. No one stuck around to talk to Carlos Arroyo or Julio Toro. I was going to ask a question in Spanish but I couldn't figure out a way to do it without sounding pretentious. Plus I wasn't sure how to say "three man weave" in Spanish. Coach Toro was nice enough to talk to me about their plans for Japan while he waited for Coach K to finish up.
Carlos Arroyo getting some love from the Telemundo guy, who both filmed and asked questions. Unfortunately Arroyo wasn’t interested in passing a FreeDarko shirt on to Darko.
Gilbert is in charge of spreading FreeDarko throughout China and Japan. I gave him the only shirt I had, so hopefully we’ll see it surface sometime during their China tour. He asked about the site, but unfortunately, we didn't get to talk long. First, he was getting dogged by some morning zoo team who wanted him to say their jingle, then a bunch of kids came in looking for autographs and security led him out to the bus.
It was an amazing night in Vegas, complete with a bizarre appearance in a fully-lit house by Blue Man Group at halftime, vendors in tuxedos selling cracker jacks, and sharing the media buffet line with Peter May and his daughter. I even thought about visiting Hoover Dam during the day, but thought that might be piling on.