BallinEurope’s Emmet Ryan has been through enough Europe vs the USA debates and club vs international basketball, Friday encompasses all of them
America, we have never hated you. We want to beat you because we love you. That’s what you need to understand about this game.
We, the European as you see us and oddly have made us, need to beat you. It’s not for political points or any other such nonsense. No, it’s because of all you have given us. Yes, Naismith was Canadian by birth, but this sport we love has been dominated by you. We need to give you a reason to see beyond your borders, not because of any accusations that you may be blinkered. We would never assume such nonsense. No, it is on us to give you a reason. For most of the history of this sport we all adore, we haven’t given you enough reason to bother looking.
Football, that’s the global game. You are fine but not great at that. Handball, well we rock at that but you will never care about it. Volleyball, actually that’s in wonderful competitive health but not enough people care which is a shame because volleyball is great. Basketball, you dominate but it’s the sport where the two sides of the Atlantic can most hope to find competitive common ground.
Every year I go to Euroleague Final Fours and they are wonderful. It’s our beast. You have the NBA, you share it with the world and we all enjoy it but, let me assure you, for those 72 hours it’s such a special feeling in whatever host city that I wish we gave you more of a reason to care. This is not diminishing our moments, I wouldn’t trade Milan, Madrid, or Berlin of the last three years for anything. I just want you to want to care and there are thousands, probably millions, like me.
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We, the Europeans who love basketball, owe you so much and that’s why we need to beat you. Puerto Rico in 2004 made us believe it was possible, Lithuania and then Argentina woke us more. Greece in 2006 was its own glorious story, yet we still think most of Spain in 2008.
You see, that was when you sent the best you possibly could and we sent a nation which rarely gets love from the rest of the continent but it brought you to the absolute brink in Beijing. That gave us the one thing you NEEDED to give us. You gave us hope. You made us think about the 2010 World championships, the 2012 Olympics, and the World Cup in Spain two years ago when so many of us thought Spain could beat you.
Yet here we all are in Rio. Spain are aged. Juan Carlos Navarro, the man I’ve had a basketball crush on for years is but a joke as a man who survived a dick punch to so many of you. Save Spanoulis, it’s hard to see any of that Greek team from 2006 in the same light. Pau Gasol is a heart with legs. We, a continent, put our faith in an aged team which missed its best two shots to beat you because we need to.
We will, at least those of us with sense, will never hate you. Any fool who says as much doesn’t just hate the USA or basketball, they hate what I see as love itself for you have given us the opportunity to dream so great. We wish for you to see Berlin as Boston, Kaunas as Kansas City, Madrid as Missoula…okay something bigger than Missoula. The point is we need you to see Europe is more than a single entity. It’s for us to hit that next stage, for this game on this continent through all the hell so many of us have seen it suffer, be something more to you.
You see, America, you make us believe in ourselves. You are the standard against which we set ourselves in sport and it’s not about the Cold War. In boxing it was about our heavyweights, Johanssson, Cooper, and Lewis. In running it was our sprinters, okay that was mostly Linford Christie. In every sport where you excel, we seek to be worthy of not just your respect. We wish you to see us as a foe that always merits respect. We can’t survive as footnotes, the sport can’t survive globally with us as that. We need you to know that your champions are not invincible. At your best, you can lose purely because we need to be at your level.
Thank you America for making us want to excel, as it happens that means we need to beat you. We probably won’t but either way take our cheers and jeers as signs that we love you for making us care.
Meanwhile in less emotionally draining games
Serbia and Australia will clash in what is being easily described as the ‘other’ semi final and that’s genuinely unfair despite the heart pouring piece I just wrote above. Yes, the Boomers won their group game handy but only a fool doesn’t see this as a potential classic.
When Serbia are on, they are so on, and we know that they play to the level of their opponent. Australia are going to expect a neat as heck performance from Sasha’s charges. We’ve seen the pretty stuff from Milos, the polished stuff from Jokic, and all the bits that were anything but when they faltered. The question isn’t whether Serbia will show up at their best, that’s beyond the control of Australia. It’s whether the Boomers can live with Serbia if they turn up at their best. That’s what we need to see, it’s what we want to find out.