NBA Players Try For Chance On Team USA
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The United States used to dominate world basketball, but that is no longer a given. So the Americans will be hoping to assert themselves when basketball's World Championships begin in a few weeks in Turkey. U.S.A. basketball has assembled 15 NBA All-Stars, and almost All-Stars, and a dozen of them will make the cut. The players have been training in New York, and NPR's Mike Pesca's been with them.
MIKE PESCA: To be fair, that list of All-Stars all had their reasons. Mike D'Antoni, a Team USA assistant, details some of the more usual excuses.
MIKE D: Some of the guys just, you know, because it's so long - the NBA season - they get banged up so much that it's hard to just keep going summer after summer. So (unintelligible) a lot of them are free agents. So there's a lot of different reasons. Everybody has their reasons.
PESCA: D'Antoni, who is the also the head coach of the New York Knicks, says he encourages his players to participate in international basketball. But this year his best player, Amar'e Stoudemire, was kept off Team U.S.A. An insurance underwriter refused to allow the $100 million power forward with bulky knees to play for anyone other than the Knicks. But Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups rebuffed the naysayers.
CHAUNCEY BILLUPS: You know, its funny, everybody always saying why are you doing this - you know I'm saying? And my thing is why not. You know what I mean? You've got a chance, man, to represent my country, doing something that I've been doing since I was nine, 10 years old. I don't care who's not playing. I've never been a follower. You know what I'm saying? I do what I do.
PESCA: Unidentified Man: From the Oklahoma City Thunder, number five, Kevin Durant.
PESCA: Unidentified Man: From the Washington Wizards, number 11, JaVale McGee.
PESCA: Coach Mike Krzyzewski has an interesting assortment of smallish young players - emphasis on young. Seven of the 15 players still in contention to make the team were born in 1988. That means they were three or four when the Dream Team played in the Olympics. But Lamar Odom, along with Billups, one of the team's elder statesmen, says the players all share an outlook.
LAMAR ODOM: You know, I'm 30. And some of these guys are 21, 22, 23, really come from the same culture, which is the hip-hop culture. We love the same music, the same clothes, the same style. You know, all these guys are basketball historians, so they know what the first Dream Team was.
PESCA: A marching band, break dancers, steppers and a DJ all urged the crowd to make some noise. The intrasquad scrimmage ended in a quite rare sudden death overtime. Tyson Chandler slammed home a rebound, and the players left the Radio City stage to make way for a concert by Jay-Z.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
PESCA: After, Billups compared the experience to an All-Star game, but with players who were really trying.
BILLUPS: We've been going extremely hard in practice. We're trying to get something done. We're trying to play defense. Trying to play with a cause, as opposed to an All-Star game you're just trying to showcase.
PESCA: Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.
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