September 17, 2008
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…