The Optimist in Athens, Part III
Part I | Part II
Dear Cavalier Fans,
Gia sou once again from the Greek Isles, sports fans. I apologize for not having written in the last couple of days.
As I wrote in my last installment, when the Optimist travels, I always go with the Gregory Peck white-on-white and it drives the women nuts. Well, I wound up having a romantic tryst with a beautiful plus-sized Greek woman from the scenic sea port of Naoussa. I insisted repeatedly that I needed to get to some events and write my column for the Cavaliers, but each time I tried to leave our cozy beachside cottage, she'd get all Rulon Gardner on me. I spent the better part of last week in a full-nelson and, people, let me just say it was spectacular!
My good friend and the Miami Heat's Director of Optimism, Mike Farmer and I have caught as many events as we could in-between team meetings and practices. Mike outranks your pal, the Optimist, on this trip to Athens. But it doesn't bother me. I'm like TheBron; I'm all about the team. An example of how much power Mike yields down in South Beach occurred this off-season when Heat owner Mickey Arison traded for center and three-time NBA Finals MVP, Shaquille O'Neal just to keep up with Farmer's optimistic predictions. Arison and Heat GM Pat Riley know where their bread is buttered.
Mike and I just got back to the hotel after Team USA's hardfought 102-94 win over Pau Gasol and his band of Spaniards. Stephon Marbury laid a U.S. Men's record 31 points on the Spanish squad in the victory. The game was physical throughout and got really chippy in the end. I personally blame the international refs, who really let the game get out of hand. A lot of NBA fans don't realize that the international game is much more physical than they way we play, stateside. In the NBA, players can't even check their opponent with two hands. In the international game, legal tactics include two-hand checking, hip checking, cross checking, sucker punches, rabbit punches, indian burns, wedgies, full- and half-nelsons, the fireman's carry and name-calling. It's a cross between the mid-1990's New York Knicks and Rollerball.
But it was Larry Brown's late timeout that sent Spanish coach Mario Pesquera over the edge, prompting him to point his finger in Coach Brown's grill. The two had to be separated by their assistant coaches. Pesquera thought Brown was trying to rub it in and even played the Dean Smith card on Brown, a former Smith protege.
The fiery coach of Spain said: "Dean Smith would have never done anything like that."
Them's fightin' words, Pesquera. You're lucky Marvin Cross wasn't around to hear that! You would have seen a real Greek tragedy, baby!
To top it off, Brown was just going by the crazy international rules. Calling a timeout in international play is, once again, very different than they way it's done in the National Basketball Association.
In the NBA, a player can call timeout during play. On the international circuit, coaches have to fill out paperwork for a timeout well in advance of actually calling for the break. That paperwork has to be done in triplicate and notarized by an Olympic or local official. A coach can try calling a timeout in the third quarter and not have it actually granted until the first half of the next game.
Overall, the end and aftermath of the game was a mess. The crowd of 14,500 at the Hellinko Olympic Complex was decidedly anti-American and even Spain's King Juan Carlos, who was in attendance, was completely out of hand. TV cameras caught the Spanish monarch tossing plastic beer bottles and crumpled programs onto the court following Spain's loss.
But the rules aren't just different in Olympic basketball. Societal norms are also quite different. Mike Farmer and I found out about that firsthand when we took a daytrip to one of Greece's loveliest beaches, Tolo Beach.
My beach experience is relegated to the sandy shores of Lake Erie, where people have been known to sunbathe in parkas. Mike resides in South Beach, where the attire is a little more 'liberal'.
But here in the Mediterranean, they let it all hang out! Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: "Topless!" And, yes, that is the case. And, yes, it's wonderful.
But here's the catch: nearly all the men wear swimsuits which can best be described as 'psuedo-Speedos.' Some men are heavy and some are thin, but all of them are excessively hairy. These cats have hair on their backs, their shoulders, their knuckles. Everywhere! Call me a homer, but the Optimist will take Mentor Headlands, thank you.
Well, that's all for now. We can only hope that Friday's game against All-Optimist second teamer, Manu Ginobili and the fiesty Argentinian squad will be a little more civilized. I'll try to check back tomorrow after the game, but let me say that if things get ugly like they did after the Spain game, the Optimist is jumping into the fray. I'll clock one of those Argentinians so hard, Evita Peron will feel it.
Once again, Go USA! And, as always, keep the faith, Cleveland.