By Jose M. Romero / @RomeroJoseM
For Fox Deportes
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Carmelo Anthony held a small American flag uniform patch in one hand, realizing that clutching it was the best way for him to keep it safe.
For this was a uniform accessory that truly has meaning, a flag from a U.S. military serviceman that presumably will be sewn onto the USA Olympic basketball teams’ (men’s and women’s) jerseys to be worn in London.
Saturday in the nation’s capital, the NBA superstars who make up the USA squad – and one rookie, center Anthony Davis – held a practice leading up to Monday’s exhibition game against Brazil in Washington. It was a treat for select American military personnel and their families, who packed the D.C. Armory to see the gold-medal favorites in action as the main attraction of Nike’s World Basketball Festival.
There was business at hand for the Olympians – a few things to work on in practice, then some entertainment during a break and then a scrimmage – but there was no ignoring the energy in the spruced-up building. A deejay spun jams. Fans stood around the court as close as they could get to the players, media types in front of them, crowding the court’s baselines some four deep.
LeBron James drew perhaps the loudest cheers, bit Kobe Bryant wasn’t far behind in that department. The King’s reverse jam was the play of the day, though there were other thrill moments for the fans.
Kevin Love lobbed a pass to Davis for an alley-oop dunk. James Harden hit a long 3-pointer in the scrimmage to give his Blue team a late 20-18 lead, but the White team tied it, and everyone called for overtime.
The extra period lasted two minutes and Kevin Durant hit the biggest shots. His second three-ball of overtime made it 26-20 for the White team, and although Harden cut it to 26-23 with his three with 7.4 seconds left, the clock ran out on the Blue team.
Practice officially ended with that scrimmage, then seven players paired up with troops in a shooting contest. The dramatic conclusion of the afternoon saw soldiers and players line up across from each other, then meet and greet as the troops handed the players – which included some members of the USA women’s team on hand for a morning youth clinic – the flag patches to be added to the basketball uniforms.
“They’ve got so much love for us,” Anthony said. “We always try to give back to them. It’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s a great opportunity for us. We are just taking full advantage of it.”
Melo is on this third Olympic team and has a bronze medal from 2004 and a gold from 2008. The New York Knicks star was asked if he feels he and his NBA veteran teammates who have been to multiple Olympics have made it fashionable to wear the red, white and blue and represent the U.S. at the Games.
“Absolutely. It’s a great thing, it’s a fun thing, it’s a pride thing,” Anthony said. “We love it. We still talk about it like we’re little kids, being able to put this uniform on.”
Anthony hopes he can spend time with fellow Baltimore native Michael Phelps. Yes, that Michael Phelps. The McDonalds-loving multi-gold medalist in swimming.
“Hopefully they don’t compete on the same day we compete,” Anthony said. “I’m looking forward to hanging out with my buddy. I haven’t seen him in a long time.”
The hot topic with Team USA these days is the comparison to the 1992 Dream Team – celebrating it’s 20th anniversary and being honored by Nike via the World Basketball Festival – and which team would win in a head-to-head matchup.
Melo wasn’t taking the bait.
“Why can’t it all just be love? It’s always got to be us against them or them against us,” Anthony said. “We’re all USA basketball players… We try to make a statement with the team that we have. What they did back in ‘92 will never be duplicated, and we’re not trying to duplicate that. We’re just trying to start our own thing and hopefully continue that legacy.”
There’s another flag Anthony will keep close to him in London – that of Puerto Rico tattooed on his right hand. He is part-Puerto Rican, and says it matters to him.
“That’s my blood, that’s who I am, I can’t change that,” Melo said. “It’s great. There’s not that many Latinos that’s been able to participate in the Olympics. I’m glad I can be one of the faces, hopefully, of that group.”