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The Optimist at the FIBA World Championships, Part II

by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer
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Konichiwa, fellow American imperialist dogs and those of you reading from around the World Wide Web! Don’t be alarmed; it’s just your old pal, the Optimist, checking in from the Land of the Rising Sun – Sapporo, Japan – where Team USA has just finished kicking the crap out of the poor Senegalese squad, 103-58.

The U.S. has been as good as advertised in the FIBA World Championships Preliminary Round – dismantling Puerto Rico, China and Lithuania and overcoming some tough challenges from Brazil and Italy.

Personally speaking, I could get used to life right here in Sapporo. Other than all the Japanese people and, of course, my lovely geisha, Katsumi, it’s not that much different than Cleveland. The streets use the standard right-turn grid system. They have a huge brewery that pumps out the world-famous Sapporo Classic Beer. And they even have a sorry baseball team called the Sapporo Ham Fighters.

The Ham Fighters are a trip. They play “YMCA” during the seventh inning stretch and the groundskeepers and cheerleaders dance to it in the infield. They opened the 1998 season with a member of the Japanese Olympic curling team rolling out the first pitch. And they have a pink fluorescent mascot named “Fighty.”

On the basketball court, the action has been fierce and feisty throughout the Preliminary Round of the World Championships. Why, even our own amiable zany, Anderson Varejao, has gotten into the fray. Just the other day, in Brazil’s 91-80 loss to the Greeks, the Cavaliers junior forward planted an elbow squarely on the kisser of Nikos Zisis – fracturing the 23-year-old guard’s jaw in three places as he came across the lane.

I love Andy, but that’s cheating. You can’t do that, Wild Thing, or you’ll get a lot more hell over it than a little bit.

In certain parts of Japan, the one known as "Fighty" has almost god-like status.

Greece still finished 5-0, but now they’re heading into the money rounds without their best ballplayer. Needless to say, Varejao won’t be making a trip to the Hellenic Republic for authentic souvlaki or the beautiful Mediterranean babies any time soon.

(I don’t condone what Anderson did to that poor Greek’s grill, but let that be a lesson to y’all back there in the States. The Wine and Gold won’t be playing patty-cake in the paint this year! Don’t let our team’s funny hair-do’s fool you.)

Of course, not all of the Cavaliers in the FIBA World Championship tournament are running about, smacking Europeans upside they heads. Take Team USA’s TheBron, for example. He and his band of Young Americans have been doling out butt-kickings the old fashioned way – at an average of 23 points per contest.

But the sledding gets much tougher for the Red, White and Blue now.

The Sweet 16 are in and don’t kid yourself, my fellow Americans – the competition is tough. You’ve got Dirk Nowitzki and his Germanic squad, shaggy Pau Gasol and his scrappy Spaniards and Manu Ginobili’s Olympic gold medal-winning group from Argentina. There’s all this, and the fact that Yao Ming – the tallest Chinese player in the NBA – is absolutely at the top of his game right now.

But before Team USA gets to any of those matchups, they’ve got to go through a young but tough Australian team.

Australian basketball has never won a medal in the FIBA’s and without retired stars, Andrew Gaze and Shane Heal, they have but one real option: Andrew Bogut.

The Chosen One came to the Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center to do two things: kick some butt and chew some gum.
Guess what he's almost out of?

That’s not going to get the job done against Team USA on Saturday, people. I know Aussies are tough; I’ve seen Australian Rules Football. But TheBron and Co. are determined to get the monkey off their backs and bring the gold back to the motherland. Australia cannot – will not – get in Coach K’s way.

Look for an equally inexperienced U.S. club to come out sluggish on Saturday. Australia actually leads, 18-8, in the early going. But Melo gets his mojo going and goes lights-out from beyond the arc, finishing with 22 first-half points and leading Team USA to a 13-point halftime lead.

In the second half, TheBron finishes the job, netting 13 points in the third and getting half the fourth quarter off as Team USA cruises to a 104-81 win in the opener of the Second Round of the FIBA World Championships. Carmelo Anthony leads the team with 29 points, Dwyane Wade has 20 and TheBron finishes with 17 points, six boards and five dimes.

How does that make you feel, Yankee Doodles? All chest-out full of good old-fashioned American pride?!

I hope so.

That’s all I have for today, people. Katsumi is going to walk on my back while I sip some Saki and read Raymond Carver. Like I said: it’s just like Cleveland, only different.

I’ll be coming back soon. And so will TheBron. And when we do, Training Camp will be just one month away. But until then, have pride and pull for your homeland – wherever your homeland may be – and always remember to …

Keep the faith, (country)

Your pal,
The Optimist


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