Suns News

Taurasi, Marion and Stoudemire Thrilled to Play in Olympics

Suns forward Amaré Stoudemire is eagerly anticipating the opporutnity to represent the United States in next month's Olympic Games.
(NBAE Photos)
By Mike Tulumello
East Valley Tribune
July 20, 2004

Fan of the WNBA or not, you've got to admit one point: It's hard to imagine female pro basketball players becoming so full of themselves that they thumb their noses at the notion of playing in the Olympics.

“There are people in the women's game who would die to go to the Olympics,” said the Mercury's Diana Taurasi, who will be part of the women's team representing the United States in Athens. Actually, the local pro scene will be thoroughly represented in basketball competition in Athens, as two Suns players are part of the men's team.

Yes, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion take the pre-historic view — at least among NBA players — that representing the United States is worth the sacrifice.

Heck, it might even be fun. That's a point the two players make enthusiastically.

Stoudemire, who has never visited Europe, said, “It gives you a chance to see the world.. . . It's going to be a great experience for me.”

Said Marion, “It's a chance to play on a great stage.

“I worked hard for it.. . . I think I earned it.”

Their views might seem obvious, but only two of the original nine players named to the men's team have stuck to their commitment: Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson.

The others cited injuries, the grind of the NBA season (some players take part in more than 100 games, counting exhibitions and playoffs) and hint at the threat of terrorism.

That's why Taurasi won't condemn her male counterparts.

“They have different issues.. . . There isn't a right or wrong answer.

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“They might not feel it's as prestigious or as much of an honor,” she said of the men. “I personally think there's no greater honor than playing for your country.”

Taurasi acknowledged that her current stretch of basketball is the toughest grind she's ever endured.

She came off a six-month college season in which she led Connecticut to the NCAA title, then took off for the Olympic tryouts, then to the Mercury. Now, she's about to get ready for Athens — the WNBA will break for about a month — then will head back to the Mercury.

“Mentally, you just have to stay really focused,” she said.

So, can she ever foresee the day when women's basketball grows to the point where players will give a “big-time” no-thank-you to the Olympics?

“No, I don't think so. It's kind of unfortunate that the men's game has gotten to that point.”

Marion and Stoudemire were added this past spring, a time when men's players were departing and joining the team at such a frenzied pace that any plans to print men's basketball programs would have been postponed. When Stoudemire was being considered for a spot early this year, he all but called reluctant players a bunch of fat-heads.

“You'd have to be a weirdo to turn that down,” he said at the time.

Today, he's moderating his statements.

“I don't think they're necessarily idiots,” he said. “I think they just don't want to take the chance of going over there and having terror attack.”

And yet, “It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal, the way I look at it. It's too hard for me to turn it down.”

Even so, everyone is aware of security issues.

Marion admitted that the situation is “scary, a little bit.. . . The world is a little crazy. But we should be fine.”

Taurasi has been involved with USA Basketball and its travels since she was a freshman in high school, “And I've never had a problem. I don't think this should be any different.

“Day-do-day dangers are everywhere. It's not going to be any different at the Olympics.”

A major concession has been made to the basketball players’ celebrity status: They won't be housed in the Olympic village with other athletes.

Instead, both teams will be housed off-shore aboard the Queen Mary II, where officials apparently believe they will be safer.

Though many athletes feel that staying in the village is part of the Olympic experience, Stoudemire said he's happy with the arrangement. “They have more security that way.”

COPYRIGHT 2004, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.