ATHENS -- Striking imagery and stunning technology were combined with class, simplicity, enthusiasm, pride and perfect execution as the 2004 Athens Olympics ceremoniously opened to welcome and honor the best athletes in the world.

The program began with an enthusiastic countdown, which led to the famed Olympic rings set ablaze in a man-made sea of reflective perfection. It continued with an artful and vivid human timeline display of Greek history, recreating every descriptive moment from the beginning of time to prehistoric civilization moving along every stunning step of the way towards the Greek Classics, Myths, Gods, Goddesses and Heroes.
Staley carried the U.S. flag in the 2004 opening ceremonies.
(NBAE/Getty Images)

Ancient Olympia of 776 BC was transformed to the birth of the Modern Games in 1896. And then it was time for the parade of athletes of the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad and the traditional lighting of the Olympic flame.

When the ceremony concluded and the flame was raised far above the striking and modern Stadium, the people of Greece proclaimed, “We did it. We did it.”

And, with athletes from 202 countries of the world assembled as one, the people of the world applauded, agreed and gazed, stating, “You did it with perfection.”

The 2004 Olympic Games are now underway.

The first impression was so very important. Constant criticism and scrutiny might lead from a negative perception to reality. But, in the case of the opening of the Athens Olympics in the Year 2004, all is very well and the games are on with the focus right where it should be -- on the world’s greatest athletes.

A few of those athletes hail from the USA’s basketball teams.

Dawn Staley, the veteran point guard of the women’s team, had the honor of bearing the Stars and Stripes while leading the United States' delegation into the stadium. Staley became the first basketball player from the USA to have that honor.

Every member of the USA Men’s basketball team followed Staley into history and marched with pride as cultures gathered for the purpose of peace, sportsmanship and competition.

“It was just overwhelming,” said Richard Jefferson, the starting forward for the US Men’s basketball team. “It’s one of those things that you really want to experience whether you are a fan, an athlete and competitor or even just as a human being. You need to experience all those different cultures coming together and celebrating as one.”

“I had a chill through my body,” said Carmelo Anthony. “I’ve never experienced anything like it in my whole life or basketball career. I thought it was the highest point of my career so far.

“We wanted to show the whole world that we’re good people,” added Anthony. “That was our main thing. We wanted to say, ‘the USA has some good people in their country.’ We enjoyed mingling with the athletes from the other countries and there were thousands of them (10,500 to be exact). We wanted to be with everyone else.”

The thrill of meeting other athletes, mingling in the Olympic Village and enjoying the experience was important to every member of the USA team.

“Every one of us just stuck our arms out to see whose hair had risen the highest,” said USA Assistant Coach Gregg Popovich the day after the ceremony. “We all had goose bumps on our arms,” he added.

“When you step into the stadium, it’s just unbelievable. You feel like you just finished the marathon and you are the winner,” noted Popovich. “It was a special moment that will really last a long time. It was a thrill, a huge thrill. The camaraderie with all the athletes from the USA and all the other countries made it really magnificent.”

Just who did they meet?

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A few additional notes and quotes from players and coaches from USA Basketball:

Assistant Coach Gregg Popovich: “You meet so many athletes. The pin trading thing where everyone is exchanging pins is interesting because you meet players and coaches from all the other teams. You meet people you don’t expect to meet. I’m walking along and there’s Martina Navratilova and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, what an inspiration that is to see somebody that’s a little older but still gets the same thrill out of the competition and what the Olympics mean. We went over to see the Chinese delegation and the Australian delegation and we met so many of their athletes. It was just tremendous.

“I was in the cafeteria beforehand and ran into a 1500 meter runner that I had at a basketball camp when he was a kid in Colorado. He came up to me and said hello. That made it pretty special.”

Richard Jefferson: “I met Martina Navratilova. She was unbelievable because I’m a big tennis fan. I met Andy Roddick and saw him over at the Olympic Village. There were just so many others, including wrestler Cael Sanderson…guys that you see or read about and hear about that you might never get a chance to meet because you would never cross paths. But at something like the ceremonies, you all come together as one.”

Lamar Odom: “It was a once in a lifetime experience. It was nothing short of being a blessing from God to be able to experience something like that. The Olympic Opening ceremony is something I’ve watched on TV my entire life, so to actually be a part of it, is something that I will never forget.

“We were trying to meet everybody. We were taking pictures. We really didn’t know what to expect because there is just nothing like it. I can’t even tell anyone about because I would be selling it short. It’s just something that you have to experience on your own.”

Emeka Okafor: “I thought that this is what it’s all about. The Opening Ceremony is here and let the Olympic Games begin. I was so excited to be there. Seeing so many different cultures and different styles was the best experience.”