Last week on “The Press Row,” our prize-winning Internet show (OK, we haven’t actually won a prize yet, but hope springs eternal), the Boss and I discussed the following question. Are you comfortable with Kevin Durant playing for USA Basketball in the summers?
I said no, not particularly, because I’d like to see The Franchise rest up after a 100-plus-game campaign. I said to Durant what the Beverly Hillbillies used to say to America on Wednesday nights in the 1960s: Sit a spell. Take your shoes off.
It’s fun to watch Durant and the Americans drill the French or the Brazilians or some other try-hard basketball nation. But I prefer my patriotism and love of country in forms that don’t include a scoreboard. And I prefer my superstars fully loaded for the games for which they’re paid quite handsomely. I want Durant rested for the games that truly ignite our passions.
Then came Friday night and Paul George’s gruesome broken leg. I felt for George. I felt for the Indiana Pacers. I felt for Larry Bird and for David West and for the proprietors of St. Elmo’s Steakhouse and for Dan Quayle and for Bobby Plump and for Stephanie Kuzydym and for everyone else I can think of from the great state of Indiana.
And then I thought what you thought. That could have been Durant. And no matter what anyone says, “you” includes Clay Bennett and Sam Presti and Scotty Brooks and Russell Westbrook.
I know, basketball players play basketball. Winter, spring, summer and fall. Whether they’re in NBA arenas with TNT cameras or whether they’re on outdoor courts under summer street lights. Kevin Durant is not taking the off-season off. He’ll play hoops.
But those pickup games at Rucker Park or Pauley Pavilion or a thousand other summer venues are not the same as the international competition that USA Basketball coordinates. NBA players in most pickup games are playing to stay in shape and to stay sharp. If James Harden gets a breakaway, there’s no sweat. Let Harden have his dunk.
Then these guys congregate for U.S. team camp and eventually head to Istanbul or Madrid or Rio for competition, and they come with their game faces ready. Pride kicks in. Suddenly, letting Harden dunk in scrimmage or letting some guy from Belarus get to the basket is not such a small deal.
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