We have a real treat for you today, loyal readers and NBA fans.
There are few NBA writers we hold in higher regard than Mr. Adrian Wojnarowski, the backbone of Yahoo! Sports’ excellent NBA coverage. He also just happens to be the author of the New York Times bestseller The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball’s Most Improbable Dynasty, which is being made into a major motion picture. (Buy the book on Amazon.)
We’ve broken Wojnarowski’s interview into two parts, with Part 1 focusing on his thoughts and experiences from Beijing in covering Team USA’s run to gold-medal redemption. Part 2 will follow tomorrow, and boy howdy is it ever juicy–don’t miss it. Without further ado, we welcome Adrian Wojnarowski as the latest subject of our ongoing Scribes of the NBA Interview Series.
Empty the Bench: You spent a few weeks in Beijing for the Olympics. In covering the U.S. team as they played and lived in a much different environment than what they’re accustomed to, what did you learn about a few players on the U.S. team and their personalities, skills, etc. that was surprising?
Adrian Wojnarowski: Spending a lot of time around that team mostly reinforced some things that I already believed about the players. Here are a few:
Kobe Bryant is calculating, smart, and maybe the league’s most ‘aware’ player of circumstances, surroundings, and angles. LeBron James doesn’t like when things aren’t all about him. Dwyane Wade is never too impressed with himself. Carmelo Anthony will always tell you the truth.
To me, the biggest surprise was how much credit that people wanted to give Mike Krzyzewski for this team. The least surprising? The fact that he has already sold another ‘motivational’ book that will detail his leadership of the gold-medal winning team.
As one NBA GM said to me, “I guess K didn’t have time to do a book after ’06.” Those were the world championships when Krzyzewski couldn’t make an adjustment to stop the Greece pick and roll and didn’t prepare enough to know the names of the Greek players. The insistence after that semifinal loss was that the team was too young and too inexperienced. They had enough to win in ’06, but obviously they were much better by ’08. Still, putting that loss in the Worlds on the players was typical of the college coaching establishment. They want the credit when it goes well, and none of the blame when it doesn’t.
Krzyzewski said it himself: This was an easy team to coach. It really was. They were motivated. They were focused. They were determined to be unselfish. The biggest thing of all was this is that they had been together for most of 3 years. He had the best talent. The best preparation time. And to his credit, he made the most of it.
But I’ve been around that program enough the past two years to know this: The leadership on this team came primarily from two places: Jerry Colangelo and Jason Kidd/Kobe Bryant. Listen, Colangelo gave Coach K an excess of talent, and he still needed every last superstar—Kobe, Wade, LeBron, etc.—to beat Spain in that gold medal game. It’s kind of typical of the college culture and its enablers to make sure the coach gets all the credit.
Jerry Colangelo and the USA Basketball staff—which includes behind-the-scenes guys like Jim Tooley and Sean Ford—gave this national team the structure it needed to succeed. Colangelo convinced everyone that for a true national program, Team USA needed to turn to a true European model. David Stern gets a lot of credit, too, because he gave Colangelo the resources and autonomy to make this work.
Yet, understand this: mostly, they had great, great players. A-list NBA stars. The B-list guys won’t do it anymore. Unlike in college, they don’t let the coach stand on the ladder and cut down the nets. In the pros and the Olympics, they know the truth: you win with the players.
More on the Team USA Olympics experience from Adrian Wojnarowski after the break…
ETB: Which players do you think will benefit most from their experience playing with the U.S. team this summer? Has it been a detriment to anybody’s development? For example, it looks like Dwight Howard still hasn’t worked on any go-to moves in the post beyond the dunk.
Wojnarowski: Colangelo and I talked a lot about this over the summer. This program will make the NBA a better league. I think the experience taught these guys a lot of things. For guys like Michael Redd and Carlos Boozer, they found out what it’s like to not be a star for the first time, to sit on the bench and hope they’ll get a chance to play. I think that gives those guys more empathy and understanding of teammates on the Jazz and Bucks, for example. That’s a perspective All-Stars don’t often get in the league.
Colangelo believes that Krzyzewski’s teaching will actually make these players better. I think the players learned far more from each other though. To think that Dwight Howard is getting something that Stan Van Gundy and Patrick Ewing couldn’t give him? I’m not buying that. There are always exceptions, I know, but far, far more quality coaching goes on in the NBA than NCAA. As you might have noticed, NBA coaches don’t have to fill out their staffs with AAU coaches to bring in recruits.
There’s never been much of a correlation between a Duke apprenticeship and NBA success. The great pros out of Duke—namely Grant Hill and Elton Brand—would’ve been terrific NBA players had they gone to, say, Medaille College. What’s more, the Team USA guys watched how true superstars like Wade, LeBron, and Kobe gave of their games for the greater good of the team. They saw how hard the great ones worked at it.
To me, Chris Paul’s growth has a leader has really been measurable as part of Team USA. That’s true with Howard and Bosh, too. In fact, the Olympics left you thinking that Bosh could be the most underrated talent in the league. If nothing else, Anthony’s game is incredibly tailored for international basketball. And I really hope it’s the case with ‘Melo. He’s needed this more than anyone.
ETB: What was your most memorable non-sports experience of the Beijing Olympics?
Wojnarowski: I’d say my most memorable experience in China was the arrival of the Internet traffic scores that reported the historic gulf in users and readership between Yahoo! Sports and the rest of our competitors. (Ed note: zing!)
Part 2 to follow…
Recommended Team USA Columns by Adrian Wojnarowski:
More from ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series:
– J.E. Skeets of Yahoo!’s Ball Don’t Lie
– David Friedman of 20 Second Timeout
– Ron Hitley of Hornets 24/7
– Ryne “Odenized” Nelson of SLAMonline
– Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and FanHouse
– Brett Hainline of Queen City Hoops
– Dave Deckard of Blazer’s Edge
– Kurt of Forum Blue and Gold
– Brian Powell of Awful Announcing
– Lee Grammier of The Dream Shake
– Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead
– Scott Carefoot of Raptor Blog
– Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Part 1
– Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Part 2
– Matt Watson of AOL FanHouse and Detroit Bad Boys
– Natalie Sitto of Need4Sheed.com
Chris Paul Photo Credit: Icon SMI