Jets captain Pero Cameron will represent New Zealand at the FIBA World
Championships in Indianapolis in August and September. We'll be following
his preparations and progress in a series of looks at basketball's biggest
I: Rested and ready
Cameron remembers it well. The autograph hunting. The polaroid shots
from the bench. And Charles Barkley's elbow.
That was Barcelona
'92. The year that America gave the world its best shot and everyone simply
smiled and was grateful for the mere opportunity to take the bullet.
In those Olympic
Games, the Dream Team featuring Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and the incomparable
Michael Jordan (plus eight other rather legendary players and recent black
sheep Christian Laettner) didn't just beat the opposition.
Fortifyied by the
introduction of NBA players into international competition, it steamrollered
over them, with Barkley whacking any passing Angolan for good measure.
Competition it wasn't.
Except for second place. But for one young New Zealander, the impression
"They were unbelievable,"
Cameron exclaims. "Jeez, nothing can touch that team.
"But the thing about
them... they came out and didnít bullshit around. They kept it very professional
on the court, and they took care of business They were just incredible."
Since then, there
have been other American teams which have been similarly dominant. None
though has been a real Dream Team. More a pleasant train of thought.
The Kiwis have no
such ambition. In the Sydney Olympics, they could finish only next to last
as sceptics muttered they had only qualified due to Australia's automatic
berth as hosts.
In Indianapolis though,
their presence is by right not
by default. And
the experience of 2000 has matured his team, Cameron insists, even the
46 point mauling dished out there by the United States.
"There were two extremes,"
the Chester Jets captain recalls
of that day.
"Yes, it was incredible
to play against all these huge stars. But for me, it was disappointing
that we didnít put in a good performance. Sure the result was taken care
of before a ball was thrown onto the court.
"But they were very
beatable at the last Olympics as Lithuania in particular showed and I wish
weíd given a better account against them that we did. We were capable of
Ah yes, Lithuania.
The Baltic wind blew ill on American myths. Illusions shattered. That seemingly
impregnable cloak of invincibility sported by the NBA's finest was just
a rim's clunk away from removal.
"In Sydney they had
some very good individuals and they were very strong but they nearly got
caught out. But all that matters is that they took gold and thatís what
will go down in history."
All eyes will be
on the hosts - coached by Milwaukee's George Karl - to regain a title which
they ceded to Yugoslavia four years ago during the league's strike.
In their home land,
in a state regarded as the hotbed of basketball, anything less than ultimate
victory will bring dishonour.
The American side
will however not be their country's
NBA icons have opted to rest rather than represent their nation during
the summer months.
There is no Shaquille
O'Neal. No Bryant, Iverson or Duncan. They will be on a beach, recovering
from a long campaign while others do their duty.
It is unsurprising.
Previous exiles such as Gary Payton and Canadian absentee Steve Nash have
suffered from performing national service during the off-season.
Yet those who have
accepted an invitation are still of pure pedigree. The chance of an upset
remains wafer thin.
"They can afford
to do that," Cameron admits. "Their third string line-up, even their fourth
or fifth, is still probably better than any other country's best team.
But it's a lot to do with their frame of mind too.
"Their third best
team might be hungrier than their best because they have something still
"Baron Davis, who
has replaced Jason Kidd, is a really tough point guard and he will be difficult
to stop. Ben Wallace, Antonio Davis, Jermaine O'Neal - they are really
"Their whole team
is super-athletic. They're still the team to beat. They set the standard."
But he adds a caution.
"Opportunity is everything.
If the USA is complacent, it could still go wrong for them."
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