By TIM DAVID HARVEY
The USA and Great Britain are normally allies, but last week as the English city of Manchester prepared London for the Olympics the two became foes over two friendlies. The city that gave us Northern Soul and Manchester Untied held an exhibition last week as the Team USA Olympic men and women's basketball teams came into town to play Team GB the hosts of this years Olympic games ahead of their plans to hold an NBA Europe Live game next year. With some entries from 'The Basketball Diaries' let's recap.
Wednesday 18Th July, 2012.
The stage is set and this is a banner moment for the city. 'Welcome To Basketball History In Manchester' a billboard next to the worlds famous Manchester Arena (formerly the M.E.N.) proudly proclaims. The men will tip-off a day later but now is time for the women to show just how great they are. It's almost a disrespectful shame that with the cheapest men's seats coming out at around 50 English pounds that you can see the woman play for around 6, still my upgraded seats don't seem to mind.
Plus the stars of the WNBA and British Basketball show they are worth more a year after the Atlanta Dream came to Manchester to wake up women's basketball with Team GB. Now the greatest female basketball talent ever-aside from Lisa Leslie-is on full display (even if top shooter and point Sue Bird is unfortunately MIA) and it all looks so good. Great Britain almost looked to pull of a shocker too coming out of the gates early and proud, leading the way and setting the tone thanks to players like Dominique Allen, Kim Butler and Jo Leedham. No one played harder than quick and tenacious guard Stef Collins who should treat this game like her audition to the big leagues of the WNBA.
Still not even the cool, rock star entrance of the Team USA (and GB) men's team courtside and a halftime show from pop princess Alexander Burke could distract the action from the women's Team USA for long. With more pace, power and perfection the eclectic star mix of Candace Parker, Angel McCoughtry and the legendary Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi sweetly broke GB down. The hosts let the game run away from them but an 88-63 win was testament to just how good the U.S are not how hard GB worked, because they earned more than that. Next, great WNBA star Maya Moore took 'Player Of The Game' honors with an MVP performance and as much points as years to her name (21). All in all this game did more than whet our appetite for the men's showdown a day later, it also showed us just how much of a wealth and expanse of basketball talent their really is.
Thursday 19Th July, 2012.
As good as the women's game was it's clear from all the assorted basketball jerseys in the city of Manchester that the men's game is the big draw. Queues of Kobe's, LeBron's and Durant's make the usual expansive ground outside the Manchester Arena look like a cattle-farm. Their will be no upgraded seats tonight. Everyone wants to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars. Even this writer by a day a night back kick-yourself inducing missed Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in a bar in up-market Spinningfields. Still it was all set for this round. Chicago Bulls and NBA star Luol Deng has been the proud and exalted flag bearer for British basketball for many hard-fought and banner years. Now with new Portland Trail Blazers signing Joel Freeland, dynamo Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Eric Boateng and captain Andrew Sullivan he looks to lead a joyful, exclamation making upset against a U.S. team.
A U.S. team that features the top today and possibly all-time trio of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant for starters. Deron Williams and Chris Paul have a point too. As do the great Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Andre Igudola. Not to mention Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love, or 'Sixth Man Of The Year' James Harden and top rookie draft pick Anthony Davis. It all seems like a dream team. Shades of '92 with Chris Mullin a cut above the rest sitting courtside. Even during practice they look to strong. Westbrook leading a dunking line and jumping into the shoulders of fellow UCLA grad Kevin Love (could some Oklahmoa City thunderous, new big-three coaxing be going on?) Who is nailing almost every practice three he takes, only to bounce off his training defender to get warm and pure again once his shot doesn't fall. One word repeated twice for Team GB comes to mind; "oh, oh".
In the game it's the same and all EA; 'Electronic Arts'. It just seems like a video game, dunks, dukes and dynamic dominance. Kobe may only record 5 points in this one to a crowd that may have wanted to see more, but he formidably fakes and hits a capital, career exclaiming J that all looks just too good. Anthony, James, Igudola and Durant are making the basket look like waste-paper, while Brooklyn's Deron Williams is setting all this up on the table perfectly with an MVP performance. Still it's the pocket rocket dunking dynamics of the heating up Russell Westbrook and the dunks and blocks of Anthony Davis that really draw the crowd. A star sometimes lost amongst others Westbrook proves he's right up there and deserving of the 'Commemorative Programme' cover in replacement of injured star Derrick Rose. While Kentucky Final Four winner and New Orleans selection Davis showed he wasn't shy on the worlds biggest stage. He's no rookie no more.
The U.S. ended up winning by for...ty, 118-78 but that didn't mean Great Britain didn't play valiantly. Score aside-just like the women's team-the men played with heart in the soul of their football loving city and country. From Pop's popping dunks, to Luol Deng leading the charge of a team strong 1 through 12 there was more British talent on stage tonight than the great halftime performance of Tinie Tempah chasing rapper Labrinth. Team GB really expressed themselves and even if they didn't provide the exclamation they wanted they made a point to punctuate this forthcoming Olympics. They have the talent and will not go quietly into the night. This was just a series of exhibitions-albeit some hard-fought, thrilling ones-the real contests start to end this week and start the next. Let the real games begin.