Fitz Files BannerBob Fitzgerald enters his 8th season as television play-by-play announcer for the Warriors. This summer, "Fitz" will be doing the radio play-by-play for all Team USA basketball games (men and women) for Westwood One/ NBC Sports. In addition to his broadcasting duties, Fitzgerald will be providing Warriors fans with a journal - or "blog" - from his time in Greece.
Home Sweet Home
Posted: Aug. 30 (1:16 p.m. PST)

Iverson and the U.S. Men go home with bronze.

It was an amazing weekend to close out the Olympics on many fronts. The Team USA loss to Argentina was painful, but not unexpected. I had been predicting that loss in a few earlier Fitz Files. The absolute lack of perimeter shooting was bound to bite this team and it did. The U.S. team we sent to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament pounded Argentina twice (here and here) in 2003.  If this edition had a pass-first point guard or legitimate three-point shooters, the U.S. would have won the gold medal again. The selection committee that put this team together needs to take a good look in the mirror.

Saturday night was one of the most memorable nights of broadcasting that I have ever experienced. I had to call the Team USA Women’s gold medal win over Australia, the Team USA Men’s bronze medal win over Lithuania and the gold medal game between Italy and Argentina. With the 45-minute delay starting the Bronze medal game (both teams brought their white jerseys), I was on the air from 4:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m.  A new Olympic record - nine hours straight!!! A night I will never forget. Toss in the 27 hours it took to get home from Athens and I’ll be sleeping for a week.

Final thoughts on the Athens games - On and off the court.

Luis Scola of Argentina made a nice impression. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images/NBAE)
Stop the “the world is catching up” garbage with regards to U.S. hoops. We sent our 47th best three-point shooter (Richard Jefferson), no true point guard and six guys that play the same position. The international game is all about three-point shooting, moving screens, absurd officiating and hysterical flopping. It is a different brand of basketball. In my opinion, significantly less enjoyable than the NBA or Division I college hoops. Trust me, the Clippers would crush any international team by 30 in a game played with NBA rules and officials.

In fact, the best players at the Olympics, Manu Ginobili, Carlos Arroyo, Pau Gasol, Yao Ming and Carlos Boozer are all NBA guys. Luis Scola of Argentina is a nice player who has been drafted by San Antonio. Andres Nocioni of Argentina has signed with the Chicago Bulls. Other than that, I didn’t see more than three guys who could make an NBA roster.

I’ll agree with Tim Duncan when he said, “FIBA sucks.” Duncan represents all that is good about the NBA and our country and he was just taken off the floor each game. You think the gymnastics officiating was a joke. Duncan was called for 30 fouls in eight games. I agreed with about five of the calls. I heard and read people saying that he should just adjust to the Euro game. Picture Barry Bonds being called out on strikes with pitches bouncing up to the plate. Tim Duncan was just not allowed to play, period.

In the win over Lithuania for the Bronze medal, I was extremely proud of our American players. Having attended Team USA practices and been around these guys it really bothered me to see them receive so much criticism. These are the guys who showed up and played for their country. They didn’t stay home for “terrorism” fears (laughable after spending five minutes in Athens). They gave up their summer, played really hard, got better as a team and other than the loss to Puerto Rico, played pretty good basketball the whole Olympics. They were just missing shooters. I don’t blame the players or coaches for such a poorly constructed roster.

USA Women celebrate the gold medal.
The U.S. women were a joy to behold. Terrific team play, great experience and leadership and an amazing full court press defense. First time Olympians Tina Thompson and Shannon Johnson were terrific on and off the court. I have never really followed women’s hoops, but they earned my respect during the three weeks in Athens.

Athens, Greece will always have a special place in my heart. The people of Greece are so fiercely proud of their country that it is contagious. They were so friendly and so helpful. It is a country of mind boggling contrasts. It never ceased to amaze me that they could have 2000 year old monuments and the original Olympic stadium from 1896 in such great shape, but had most of the sidewalks in disrepair.

The Greek way of life takes a bit of an adjustment. Dinner at midnight, clubs open until the sun comes up, nobody doing anything in the morning until about 10 a.m., crazy taxi drivers, beautiful women, great food and most Greek guys dressing up like extras from Saturday Night Fever.

I laughed on the way out of Athens at the McDonald’s in the airport. Right next to the Egg McMuffins was a cooler filled with Heineken. Only in Athens.

Spending nearly a month out of the U.S. made me appreciate so many things about our country. I met people from over 100 different nations and they all had many questions about California and the U.S. The Olympics are a great opportunity for people from all over the world to just spend time with each other. It's amazing how well real people interact from other nations. It seems only our politics makes America hated abroad. I never had an unkind word said towards me. Can’t say the same for the former governor of Texas.

Now its back to the States, NFL play-by-play starts for me on September 12th in Philadelphia and MOST importantly the Warriors season opener on November 3rd.


Gold Diggers
Posted: Aug. 26 (3:51 p.m. PST; 1:51 a.m. Athens)

Shannon Johnson (4) and Co. cheer on their USA teammates during Friday's semifinal win over Russia. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

Team USA women will play Australia for the gold medal tomorrow courtesy of a 66-62 win over Russia. The United States had won every game by an average of 30 points, so the Russia game was quite a departure.

The U.S. women seem to sense that they are getting close to the prize because they played tight throughout. They never led by double digits and seemed to never get in the flow offensively.

The gold medal game should be like an WNBA All-Star game as Australia has a ton of pros on their team as well. A chance for three straight gold medals for the U.S. women tomorrow.

Now onto Argentina and the Team USA men. Always fun to do a play-by-play doubleheader. Could be as many as 5 games in two days. We'll find out tomorrow.


Men Moving On
Posted: Aug. 26 (3:51 p.m. PST; 1:51 a.m. Athens)

Marbury broke out of his international slump to lead the U.S. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

Stephon Marbury broke the U.S. Olympic scoring record with 31 points and Team USA beat previously unbeaten Spain 102-94. What made Marbury's day incredible was that he was shooting 20% from the field in the Olympic tournament's first five games.

Tim Duncan picked up two quick "Euro" fouls and had to sit almost the entire first half. I may never say another bad word about NBA officials after watching this Olympic tournament. There are few nice words I could use to describe the officiating in these games. Many of the antics the players use to draw fouls are reminiscent of some of the flops in soccer around the world.  To be fair, there are players in the NBA game who resort to flailing backwards as if they've been hit by a truck to draw fouls, but this is ridiculous.


Spain's Pau Gasol and the United States' Allen Iverson might want to help their coaches with their postgame antics (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
Finally, while I am a little salty, the Spanish coach Mario Pesquera is lucky he didn't incite an international incident following the game. Pesquera got bent out of shape because Larry Brown called a timeout late, despite having his team giving "Bruce Lee" karate chop fouls late in the game with the U.S. up double figures. He left the court pointing his finger in the face of Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich and then complained about the officiating in the post-game press conference after his team benefited from 14 of the first 19 fouls being called on the U.S. squad. The Spanish coach lost his cool because Spain was 5-0 in the Olympics and his team lost and now must play in the 7th place consolation game. 

USA Women vs. Russia in the semis and the Team USA men take on Argentina at 10:15 p.m. Athens time (12:15 pacific). I can't wait to call both of those games.



Medal Round
Posted: Aug. 25 (9:30 p.m. PST; 7:30 a.m. Athens)

Dawn Staley and Tamika Catchings of the Team USA Women's team (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Medal round basketball began today with the Team USA women beating Greece 102-72. They will play Russia on Friday.

The U.S. women are just terrific players and really approachable. I have never really followed women's basketball that closely, but have come to appreciate the talent and teamwork that they play with. They also "press" full court, force turnovers and can really shoot. They are really accommodating with the media, making my job very easy. I am done with my last set of Greek names for the play-by-play, now onto the Russian women. Seven of their 12 players end in "ova". Should be fine.

Tim Duncan and the men's team begin medal play against Spain (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)
The U.S. men begin medal play (single elimination) tomorrow vs. Spain. By virtue of losing twice in the qualifying round, they have the toughest route possible to the gold medal. Spain (undefeated thus far), then likely Argentina and maybe a re-match with Lithuania (also undefeated). It's all going to depend on outside shooting and making free throws. My heart says the U.S. can still win the gold. But I have a sick feeling they will lose to Argentina in the semi-finals.

Interesting side note - Serbia/ Montenegro has seven NBA players on their roster and came into the Olympics as the defending World Champions. They didn't even make the medal round (top 8 of 12 teams), losing to China in the final qualifying game. This is a major fiasco in this tiny basketball country from what all the international media has been telling me.



Bob's Big Adventure
Posted: Aug. 25 (11:10 a.m. PST; 9:10 p.m. Athens)

The Island of Spetses

I finally had an off-day for basketball on Tuesday. Since, I figured I may never get back to Greece, I decided to go to the island of Spetses. Yes I know, Santorini, Crete and Mykonos are the best ones, but I had to go somewhere and come back in one day.

To get to Spetses, you head to the port of Pireas via taxi. I'm pretty sure Pireas must mean pirate in English because the fare in Euros was absurd!

I got on a hydrofoil boat called the Hellas Flying Dolphin. It actually is very fast, rides above the waves and has an open hull. Inside looks just like a plane, even the same type of seats (check out a virtual tour here). There is no outside seating for safety reasons. They even had the Olympics on satellite TV inside the boat. (As an aside, Eurosport shows the Olympics with no commercials). I even found a USA Today to read with my daily Athens News.

Strictly for research purposes
The boat ride is supposed to take two hours each way, but I know it's going to be "Greek Time" and last much longer. The way out is pretty smooth. We stop at Poros and Hydra on the way. People use the Flying Dolphin like commuter plane flights.

Once on Spetses, I took a horse drawn carriage to a place called Paradise Beach. As it turns out, every Greek island has a Paradise Beach. I had a great lunch of some grilled small animal (at this point in Greece I've stopped guessing on the species). Regardless, sun, surf, sand and reading materials made it great. For a full service review of the island, I even sampled some of the local Mythos Beer. I could have used a few more for the ride home.

The last Flying Dolphin was due to depart Spetses around 7p.m. With the medal round for basketball starting Wednesday, I didn't want to take any chances, so I bought a ticket on the Saronic Dolphin for 5:55.

The Saronic Dolphin comes into port and this boat is half the size of the Flying Dolphin. Plus, the guy who is supposedly the Captain looks like a dear ringer of Moammer Khadafi, the leader of Libya. 

The seats inside are something from the Mycenaean period and the sweet smell of diesel fuel is everywhere. As we leave the dock, I'm already questioning why I didn't just swim in the hotel pool on my off day.

Not exactly the image you want in your head while on a boat.
Twenty minutes into the journey home we are bouncing along at what seems like 80 mph (I can't make the conversion to knots, metric alone makes my head hurt). The boat is bouncing 10 feet in the air over the crest of each wave. Khadafi is up front cackling to himself and I've got visions of George Clooney in the "Perfect Storm". The sun is going down and I know nobody is going to come looking for the Saronic Dolphin at night once we capsize. Time for more Mythos. Luckily, Craig Sager of TNT brought along a cooler.

Now the boat starts moving side-to-side in addition to the up-and-down roller coaster effect. Exercising even worse judgment, I decide to go onto the back deck. The Saronic Dolphin has no problem letting you go outside. At this point, I'm not sure they are even a real charter company.

The back rail is held to the boat by two shoe strings which is very reassuring. The up-and-down, side-to-side movement feels like surfing down Lombard Street in the city. Going back inside I know this is going to be the longest boat ride of my life.

As it turns out, we make it home in almost three hours, no nautical disasters and a great day spent at Spetses. After three weeks in Greece I've figured out that they must not have personal injury lawyers. In fact the taxi driver from Pireas back to the hotel tells me that their have been 27 auto fatalities during the Olympics. Not quite sure if he is proud of the fact or just relaying information. Probably just an idle threat to make sure I would cough up the full fare at the end of the trip. After a day at sea, I'm just happy to be back on land.


Ramblin Man
Posted: Aug. 22 (12:48 p.m. PST; 10:48 p.m. Athens)

Jasekevicius led the way down the stretch for Lithuania. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
I think the song goes, "Lord, I was born a ramblin' man..."  

Here are some basic ramblings from Athens:  

Lithuania defeated Team USA 94-90 Saturday night in a terrific basketball game. Both teams played tremendous basketball, but Sarunas Jasekevicius was amazing at the point for Lithuania. He hit three 3-pointers at crunch time, all of them of the back-breaking variety.  

Coming into the game Lithuania has looked like the best team in the Olympic tournament and was actually favored to win this game. For Team USA, I thought it was their best game, but once again, the lack of shooting ability on this squad is the reason they will be hard pressed to win the gold.  

Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury went 6-of-26 from the field and we are talking WIDE OPEN shots! Team USA also missed 11 free throws. I also have to mention that Lithuania shot two free throws in the first half and 29 in the second half. Team USA has had the same official from Serbia/ Montenegro call three of their games played thus far.

But the U.S. will advance to the medal round (provided they beat Angola) and will likely face the most difficult draw of all: Argentina, Lithuania and then Spain. I just can't see them winning those three in a row. Not without shooters.  

.

Having had enough Greek food I went off in search of real hamburger. Yes, they have McDonald's in Athens, but it wouldn't be a story eating there. I went to a place called Goody's. It looks like Wendy's inside and out.  

While the Greeks do well at many things, hamburgers are not one of them. The "buns" were like two ends of a loaf of bread. The "patties" were made of something and it wasn't meat. No slices of cheese, more of a liquid cheese whiz and on the side was lettuce and corn (and not corn on the cobb). Very odd. Back to the Souvlaki pitta for me. Did get ice in my drink for the first time in three weeks. I high fived the counter girl in celebration of actually drinking something cold.  

In previous Fitz Files I've joked and remarked about the craziness on the roadways in and around Athens. Our hotel is on Possidionous Ave. which is busy 24 hours a day. The beach is on the other side with cafe's and beach clubs. But they cook the food on the hotel side of the street. You often see waiters running across four lanes of traffic with a large tray destined for someone on the beach. Sadly, there was a pedestrian fatality two blocks from the hotel. No longer funny, you just have to have your head on a swivel the entire time you walk the streets of Athens.  


The "S" Word
Posted: Aug. 19 (1:13 p.m. PST; 11:13 p.m. Athens)

How about an Athens version of Sesame Street? We'll go with "Words that start with the letter, S".

Dining out in Athens.
(Getty Photos)
Service - Eating out in Greece continues to be a running comedy. First, you just sit at any table you want. Then, you have to go find a waiter. They take drink orders right away, but you won't see a menu for 45 minutes. Once you order, your food may or may not make it to your table. As your food is being delivered, all main courses will be randomly delivered to various people at your table. Which person ordered which item is basically irrelevant. You should be happy to get any food and switching amongst your dining compatriots is your problem.

Space - Most Greek hotel rooms are so small that you have to go outside to change your mind. But the elevators are just vertical coffins. With the power outages that were prevalent prior to the Olympics, I take the stairs everywhere.  


Our own traffic lane.
(John Kolesidis/Reuters)
Speed - Do you ever daydream about having your own lane on a crowded freeway? Well, in Athens they have the Olympic lane. It is the far left lane on all streets, indicated by a big red stripe. No other car may enter at any time. Our Olympic vehicles speed by all the stopped traffic at all hours of the night. I'm bringing a can of red paint home with me, but I don't think its going to work on 101 or 880.  

Scenery - As my hotel and Qualifying Round venue are right on the water, there are several beach clubs nearby. The Tram I take each day is packed with all the beautiful people from Athens in various beach attire. For single guys, this would be Disneyland. Unfortunately, the Euro male Speedo look is featured far too often. Essentially its many men that are walking around in underwear that shouldn't be.  

Soap - I could make an ugly American comment here, but I won't. Let's just say that if you were importing Ivory or Irish Spring to Athens, there wouldn't be much demand for your product.  

Socks - Nobody wears them ever. Have yet to see a pair on any person with any outfit. I only wear mine with my running shoes jogging along the beach.  

Sleep - What's that? With Men's and Women's basketball every day and games that start as early as 9am and as late as 10:15pm, there is zero downtime. But in Greece you don't even think about eating dinner until 11pm anyway. People are out until the sun comes up the next day. Anyone that says New York is the city that never sleeps has never been to Athens, Greece.  


Getting On Track
Posted: Aug. 19 (9:47 a.m. PST; 7:47 p.m. Athens)

Inserting Marion in the starting lineup in the 2nd half sparked Team USA.
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Team USA is starting to look better every game they play. The win over Greece was an ugly ballgame that was won on sheer determination and defensive hustle. The U.S. couldn't make a shot from the perimeter and the crazy crowd bought the Greek team more than a few calls (Tim Duncan fouled out of the game). You've got to like the Greek fans though. They all wave the flag, dress in the home blue, stomp their feet most of the game and are just generally loud, in a good way.

The win over Australia gives the U.S. some hope. Larry Brown inserted Shawn Marion into the starting lineup in the second half and finally sat Richard Jefferson. Jefferson has been terrific on defense and is very necessary in closing out on all the international three-point shooters, but he just can't make a shot, period. In three games he is 4-for-26.

Duncan has been doing it all. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
Watching Tim Ducan on a regular basis and being able to attend practices for Team USA, you just come to realize that he is the best big man in the world. He is a great passer, a terrific defender, a good leader and is so smooth offensively. Being around him, you want the U.S. to win the gold just for him.

This is becoming the recurring theme for this squad: if Team USA can't make three's, they are going nowhere in the medal round. Going 10-for-62 so far in three games from beyond the arc isn't going to get it done. Only Iverson looks capable of hitting from outside, as he's made 6 of his last 12.

Game four of the qualifying round will be the toughest test so far against Lithuania. They have great three point shooters and excellent wing players, but not much inside. However, they play so well as a team and nearly beat Team USA in Sydney, losing by two on a last second shot.  That Olympics also featured a much stronger Olympic team from the States. That will also be the deciding game for seeding in the medal round for Team USA, as they should defeat Angola easily in the last qualifying game.


The Agony of Defeat
Posted: Aug. 17 (10:04 a.m. PST; 8:04 p.m. Athens)

The agony of defeat as Vinko Bogataj famous crash at the beginning of ABC Sports coverage.
Well, you can't come to Greece and not write about the language. Over a third of all English words are rooted in the Greek language. The Greek word for games is "Agones" which is the root of agony or antagonistic. The ancient Greeks saw all their athletic contests as "agonies" being played out with winners and losers. ABC sports actually had the famous line of "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" for their Wide World of Sports coverage television open.

Speaking of agony, the Greeks also have an entirely different alphabet. In fact, the parade of nations for the Opening Ceremonies is usually in alphabetical order and it was- according to the Greek alphabet. Anyone in a fraternity in college is somewhat familiar with Greek letters.

The tram at Syntagma Square. (AFP/Fayez Nureldine)
Everybody has heard the saying, "It's all Greek to me." This saying certainly applies when is comes to ordering food or taking public transit. It can be very frustrating when you can't read the language. I've figured out where I don't want to go and just eliminate trains and trams based on that. Usually the conversation is along the lines of "Hey, this tram, no Syntagma square, right?" Syntagma is kind of in the center of Athens, and I need to stay by the water. Also, all the schedules are in Greek, which makes guessing the times and locations an Olympic sport of its own.

MacGyver up to his tricks
Once you actually make it on to the Tram is usually when the fun really starts. This Tram system, which is similar to BART at home, is only two weeks old and the Tram drivers have been relegated to actually getting out and switching the tracks using an elongated broom stick. Basically, as the trains are constantly breaking down, the Tram drivers have to become television's MacGyver and be able to repair anything on a moment's notice.

As far as food, a Greek "salad" is cheese and raw tomatoes. The "safe" dish is Souvlaki which is meat on a stick, or Souvlaki pita, which is on bread. You can get chicken, pork or some random mystery meat which is supposed to be beef or lamb. Like most of Europe, ice is a foreign concept. Which makes soft drinks or water usually warm with your meal. Considering its in the 90's every day, with some sweet humidity thrown in, there's nothing better than warm drinks.


Game One
Posted: Aug. 16 (10:30 a.m. PST; 8:30 p.m. Athens)

Iverson and Marbury are the two point guards on the roster
The loss to Puerto Rico should not have been that big a surprise. Just check out my recent Fitz File where I said this was a flawed team. This is a team that doesn't have a single three-point shooter or a true point guard on the roster. 

I'll throw the numbers out and they are depressing: 3-of-24 on three-point shooting. Allen Iverson went 1-of-10 on threes, while Richard Jefferson was 0-for-6. And these were wide open looks!  The United States played zero defense. Puerto Rico stayed in a 2-3 zone the whole game, smothered Tim Duncan into 7 turnovers and dared the U.S. to make a perimeter shot.

Think about this:  If you judge the players on their percentage from last year in the NBA, Richard Jefferson is the best three point shooter on this team.  He was ranked 47th in the league. And that is the best perimeter shooter on this Olympic team?!!  The Team USA selection committee has to be re-thinking things going forward.

In future Olympics the United States must send a "team" of players - real point guards, perimeter shooters, defensive stoppers. Players that fit on a legitimate basketball team and not just pure talent.

Now, having said that, this tournament is not over. Team USA is going to make the medal round (they should beat Angola, Greece and Australia) and then it becomes single elimination. Let's let the critique and ridicule wait until then.

Also, eight players on Puerto Rico's team played Division I college ball in the U.S. And four players have NBA experience. It was almost like a U.S. team playing another squad from the States. However, Carlos Arroyo is a true point guard. And Larry Ayuso and Eddie Casiano are legit perimeter shooters from the international line.

There will be much gnashing of teeth regarding this loss (only the 3rd ever for the U.S. in the Olympics), but let's wait until the end of the tournament for full perspective on the Athens Olympics.


Post Card from Athens
Posted: Aug. 13 (12:30 p.m. PST; 10:30 p.m. Athens)

Finally had my first cab ride in an Athens taxi. Most of the Olympic venues are in one area, with the main stadium, the Olympic Indoor Hall (site of the basketball medal round), the Aquatic Center, Tennis Center, IBC (International Broadcast Compound) and MPC (Main Press Center) all in central Athens.

Helliniko Indoor Arena, site of the old Athens airport, right on the Saronic Gulf.
However, the first two weeks of basketball competition are at the Helliniko Indoor Arena, site of the old Athens airport, right on the Saronic Gulf. It’s a beautiful seaside venue but not close to the other Olympic events (think downtown San Francisco vs. the Arena in Oakland) As I am running around preparing for the games, doing interviews and coordinating our broadcasts, I have to travel back and forth quite a bit.

Now, NBC Sports has an amazing transportation system, and Athens has a dedicated Olympic lane just for Olympic media (more on that on another day). But today, my partner, Larry Conley of ESPN, and I decided to hail a cab.

Athens taxi drivers are notorious for any number of shady tactics. One, they try and gouge you on the are. Two, they drive right by even if they are empty. Three, they ask you where you are headed and if they don’t like the destination they will tell you to get out of the cab. And lastly, even if they do like you they will pick up other passengers in route to make more money. This means your group taxi could be going anywhere and you may never know how long it might take or whom you are going to meet.

Today our trip to Paleo Faliro (seaside suburb) couldn’t have been more entertaining. With my incredible command of the Greek language (yeah, right), I was able to explain our desired destination. As the cabbie didn’t speak English, I think he either cursed me or told me to get in the cab. That’s when the fun begins.

Euro currency
I now know what it must be like to sit next to Jeff Gordon during a NASCAR race. Careening around corners, running stoplights, cursing in a foreign language, bumping motorcycle riders onto the sidewalk, and 20 minutes later we arrived at the sea. Plus, this guy is never looking at the road the whole trip. I’m getting the Greek play-by-play of all his maneuvers, complete with hand gestures.

As we arrive I do my best Zorba the Greek- “Posso Koni?”- How much? I have no idea of the fare but I hold out a Euro bill in a denomination he liked and its gone in two seconds. The cab skids to a stop, I hop out and the cab is moving with the door basically shoving me to the sidewalk.

I’m sure there will be many more cab rides in the next three weeks. But it will be tough to top my first one.


Post Card from Athens
Posted: Aug. 13 (8:45 a.m. PST; 6:45 p.m. Athens)

Group A Group B
Argentina Angola
China Australia
Italy Greece
New Zealand Lithuania
Serbia and Montenegro Puerto Rico
Spain USA
Here are the five most common questions regarding Team USA at the Athens, Olympics:

1. How does the tournament work?
There are 12 teams that qualified for the Athens Olympics, broken into a pair of 6-team groups. Each team will play five qualifying games with the top four of each group advancing to the medal round.

The United States caught a huge break in Group B, playing Angola, Australia, Greece, Puerto Rico and Lithuania. There is virtually no way the U.S. doesn’t end up one of the top four. They will advance to the medal round.

That’s where it gets pretty scary. Group A has Argentina, Serbia & Montenegro, Spain, China and Italy. Team USA will face one of those teams in the medal round quarterfinals, which begins the single round elimination portion of the program. One loss and you are done as far as winning the gold.

2. When is the first game?
The first game is Sunday against Puerto Rico, a team that features some legitimate NBA players -- Carlos Arroyo, Daniel Santiago, Peter John Ramos and former NBA player Jose Ortiz. It will be a good test and a chance for Team USA to build some momentum. However, any type of careless or lackluster effort could result in disaster.

3. Is this Team USA any good?
I really like this team, except that it is flawed. There is no knock-down three point shooting threat on the roster. Michael Redd, Brent Barry or Fred Hoiberg would have been a key addition to this team. Mike Bibby would play an important role on this team, since not having a true point guard also presents other problems and he, Bibby, might be the best mid-range jump shooter in the NBA.

But having said that, you have to respect each player that chose to represent our country. They didn’t cave to idiotic terrorists. They each get paid a large sum of money to play in the NBA and yet are here in Athens for free, risking injury for nothing more than patriotic pride. That gets lost in the usual media cynicism, which is just plain sad.

4. Wouldn’t it be a big story if they lost?
Yes. But I don’t relish this result like so many other people covering this event. While I will be calling the games, make no mistake, I am pulling for the United States to win the gold medal, period. As someone who also loves the NBA, I get tired of defending the best basketball league in the world. International basketball is an entirely different game. And while the world is catching up (mainly because of NBA coaching clinics and shared expertise), the best hoops are played in America, period.

  FIBA NBA
Length of quarters 10 minutes 12 minutes
Lane dimensions 19' 8.2" x 19' 0.3" 23' 9" (22' in corner)
Shot clock 24 seconds 24 seconds
Backcourt violation 8 seconds 8 seconds
Player foul limit 5 6
Touch ball above cylinder Yes No
Closely guarded for 5 seconds Yes (while holding ball) No

5. Are the rules really that different?
Yes. The three point shot is only 20 feet, 6 inches as opposed to the NBA 3-point distance of 23 feet, 9 inches. The games are only 40 minutes long. And, most importantly, teams can play a zone without ever leaving the lane, negating offensive post players like Tim Duncan. Most international teams will try and slow down the U.S. with a 2-3 zone and turn the games into a 70-65 three point shooting contest. But maybe the biggest difference is the international officiating, which can best be described as pathetic. The phantom travel calls, the constant moving screens, the erroneous block/charge calls are more of the Division III variety. Worldwide basketball players have improved at a dramatic rate. The officiating seems to be taking much longer.


Workers finish preparations around the Olympic Stadium
AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus
Post Card from Athens
Posted: Aug. 12 (9:15 a.m. PST; 7:15 p.m. Athens)

Athens. Hot, dry, scenic, friendly, odd, interesting, exciting. Pick any adjective you want, but the capital of Greece is sprinting to the finish line to get ready for the 2004 Olympics. Olympia hosted the first games in 776 B.C. The Modern Olympics began in Athens in 1896 and the original stadium is very near where I am typing right now.  I arrived in town earlier in the week and have begun preparations for the radio broadcasts of the basketball coverage on Westwood One.

I'm sure being in Greece for nearly a month will result in more than a few stories. I'll share as many as I can. A few Athens facts: 4.5 million people, over half smoke, they drink an average of 5 bottles of whiskey per person, yet the life expectancy for a Greek man is 76 years old, 9th best in the world. Go figure. Oh, and all these guys look like Uncle Taki from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Or Anthony Quinn.

Getting around Athens can be a challenge
The streets of Athens are the most amazing. You have never seen cab drivers, motorcycles and mopeds drive at such speeds. People swerve onto sidewalks and even park on the sidewalk if they see a restaurant that interests them. I'd put the whole auto scene on an episode of "Fear Factor". If you can drive in Athens, you can handle anything. Just navigating the city on foot can be a spectator sport.

Athens is also famous/ infamous for 15,000 stray dogs that inhabit the city. Insert your own joke here.

All in all, the people are very nice, very proud to be hosting the Olympics and anxious to help out a wayward basketball guy from the Bay Area.

On a final note, technology never ceases to amaze. You insert one little chip in a cell phone and are able to talk to the family in California like they were next door. I don't know how it's done or who invented that technology, but as ancient as things are in Greece, it's always good to be just a phone call away.