Mind the gap: The basketball world is catching up to the US

Poland’s Michael Hicks looks to pass around Japan’s Ira Brown (33) during a men’s 3-on-3 basketball game at the 2020 Summer Olympics Saturday. (AP)
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Updated 24 July 2021

Mind the gap: The basketball world is catching up to the US

  • The gap between USA Basketball and the rest of the world has tightened
  • Americans are the only team in Tokyo with 12 NBA players

SAITAMA, Japan: When the Dream Team era started in 1992, most of the NBA players in the Olympics represented the United States.
David Stern knew what would happen from there.
“In time,” the former NBA commissioner predicted in 1995, “that will change.”
Stern was right. The number of international players in the NBA has steadily risen since — and the gap between USA Basketball and the rest of the world has tightened as well. There will be more players in this tournament with NBA experience than ever before, with nearly 70 players in the Tokyo Olympics either current or former players in the league. More than four dozen of them played in the league this past season.
And only 12 of that group are in Japan to compete with “USA” across their chests.
That’s why, when this men’s Olympic tournament opens Sunday, the medal possibilities may be as wide open as they have been since that first team of NBA stars took the court in Barcelona. That group — which featured 11 future Hall of Famers on a 12-man roster — showed the rest of the world how much they had to do to catch the red, white and blue.
“The gap is smaller and smaller every year as far as talent is concerned,” US coach Gregg Popovich said.
The US is seeking a fourth consecutive gold medal and is the big favorite to do just that according to FanDuel, The Americans are the only team in Tokyo with 12 NBA players. But like Popovich said and Stern anticipated years ago, the talent gap has drastically dwindled.
Nigeria, which beat the Americans in an exhibition, has eight NBA players. Australia, which also defeated the US in a warm-up game, has seven. So does France, the first US opponent in this tournament on Sunday and the nation that knocked the Americans out of contention at the Basketball World Cup two years ago. That setback sent the team spiraling to a seventh-place finish, the worst showing in any tournament ever for an American roster composed of NBA players.
“I think every team wants to beat us,” US forward Kevin Durant said. “Everybody wants to see us lose, so every game has a little bit more pressure to it.”
There’s only one current All-NBA first team player in these Olympics. He doesn’t play for the US.
Slovenia’s Luka Doncic garnered more first-team votes in the All-NBA voting this season, 55, than the entire US Olympic roster got combined. This is Slovenia’s first time in the Olympics, but with Doncic leading the way, medal talk doesn’t seem misguided.
“Slovenians, we know how to fight, man,” Doncic said. “We’re not going to go down easy.”
Doncic willed Slovenia to a win in the Olympic qualifying tournament that ended on July 4 and gave the tiny nation a spot in the Tokyo field. And what he’s done in his NBA tenure with Dallas has only shown the world that the buzz he arrived with was more than appropriate.
“He’s a spectacular player, as we all know,” Popovich said. “He’s one of the best players in the world. And I emphasize, in the world. He showed himself early on in Europe, and he was a fast study in the NBA for sure. He’s fun to watch. His skills, his competitiveness, his size, his innate basketball IQ is so impressive. You put four hardworking people around him and you’ve got a hell of a team.”
There are 12 teams in the field; four will have to wait until Monday for their Olympic openers. Sunday’s schedule has Iran vs. the Czech Republic, Germany vs. Italy, Australia vs. Nigeria and then the US vs. France. The Monday men’s openers are Argentina vs. Slovenia and host Japan vs. reigning World Cup champion Spain.
The Miami Heat have four players at the Olympics, but only one plays for the US. The Heat have three players on Nigeria’s roster (KZ Okpala, Precious Achiuwa and Gabe Vincent Nnamdi), with Bam Adebayo playing for the US.
The only men’s team in the Olympic field without a current NBA player is Iran. That roster does, however, have a former NBA player — Hamed Haddadi, who appeared in 151 games over parts of five NBA seasons for Memphis and Phoenix. He last appeared in the NBA in 2013.
The women’s game is going on the same trajectory as the men’s when it comes to having more international players with WNBA experience in these Olympics than in any previous games. The US has 12 WNBA players on its roster, while Australia has nine current or former WNBA players and Canada has eight.
Slovenia coach Aleksander Sekulić, on what Doncic does for a team: “Everything looks way easier and he’s making other players good. Also, me, myself.”


Gaikwad stars as Chennai wins opener of revived IPL

Updated 59 sec ago

Gaikwad stars as Chennai wins opener of revived IPL

  • The 14th edition of the COVID-19 hit Twenty20 tournament resumed in the United Arab Emirates with limited spectators back in the stands in Dubai
DUBAI: India’s Ruturaj Gaikwad smashed an unbeaten 88 as Chennai Super Kings beat holders Mumbai Indians by 20 runs in the first match of the revived Indian Premier League on Sunday.
The 14th edition of the COVID-19 hit Twenty20 tournament resumed in the United Arab Emirates with limited spectators back in the stands in Dubai.
The tournament was halted in May because of a devastating surge in pandemic deaths in India, prompting foreign players to rush home.
Many have not come back including England’s Ben Stokes and Pat Cummins of Australia to take some sheen out of the world’s most popular T20 league.
The event restarted with Gaikwad, an opening batsman, lifting the team from a precarious 24-4 to 156-6 with key partnerships which took the attack to the opposition bowlers.
Pace bowler Dwayne Bravo then returned figures of 3-25 from his four overs as Chennai bowlers kept down five-time champions Mumbai to 136-8.
“I felt Rutu and Bravo got us more than what we expected,” said skipper M.S. Dhoni. “We thought of 140, to get close to 160 was tremendous.”
Bravo, who also hit a useful eight-ball 23 batting at number eight, was ably supported by pace spearhead Deepak Chahar who took two key wickets including Quinton de Kock for 17.
Gaikwad though remained the hero as he hit nine fours and four sixes in his 58-ball knock after the Kieron Pollard-led side were invited to bat by Dhoni.
Five-time champions Mumbai were without regular skipper Rohit Sharma but began with a flourish as pace bowlers Trent Boult and Adam Mile rattled the Chennai top-order.
The pace duo took two wickets each and a quick delivery from Boult hit Ambati Rayudu on the forearm with the batsman retired hurt on nought.
Dhoni said Rayudu “was smiling, so he hasn’t broken his arm.”
Jasprit Bumrah also took two wickets in his 100th IPL appearance.
Gaikwad hit back with a 81-run stand with Ravindra Jadeja, who made 26, to take the team to what turned out to be a winning total.
The win took Chennai to top of the eight-team table with Delhi Capitals second, Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore third and Mumbai fourth.
Bangalore will take on Kolkata Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

New Zealand players reach Dubai after ‘credible threat’ derails Pakistan tour 

Updated 19 September 2021

New Zealand players reach Dubai after ‘credible threat’ derails Pakistan tour 

  • “We were advised this was a specific and credible threat against the team,” New Zealand Cricket says 
  • New Zealand was visiting Pakistan for first time in 18 years and was due to play five Twenty20 matches 

WELLINGTON: New Zealand was warned of a “specific, credible threat” against its team, the country’s cricket board said on Sunday, elaborating on the rationale for abruptly abandoning the tour of Pakistan as the squad reached Dubai. 

New Zealand had pulled out of the limited-overs tour on the day of the opening fixture in Rawalpindi on Friday citing a New Zealand government security alert. 

“What I can say is that we were advised this was a specific and credible threat against the team,” New Zealand Cricket (NZC) chief executive David White said in a statement. 

“Everything changed on Friday. The advice changed, the threat level changed and, as a consequence, we took the only responsible course of action possible. 

“Unfortunately, given the advice we’d received, there was no way we could stay in the country.” 

New Zealand had been visiting Pakistan for the first time in 18 years and also had been due to play five Twenty20 matches in Lahore. 

Top teams have largely shunned Pakistan following an attack by Islamist militants on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in 2009 that killed six policemen and two civilians. 

The players left Islamabad by a chartered flight on Saturday and reached Dubai where the 34-strong contingent are undergoing 24-hour period of self-isolation, the NZC said in a statement. 

Twenty four of them will return home next week, while the rest would join New Zealand’s Twenty20 World Cup squad for the showpiece tournament scheduled in the United Arab Emirates and Oman from Oct. 17. 

Stung by the shock withdrawal, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has threatened to take up the matter with the governing International Cricket Council. 

Even Prime Minister Imran Khan’s telephone discussion with New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern could not save the tour and prevent a major blow to Pakistan’s hopes of hosting top international teams. 

Prime Minister Ardern said NZC “made the right decision” to pull out of the tour. 

“You will understand why we are not in a position to give further information as to the nature of the intelligence, other than to say, it was a direct threat, and it was a credible threat,” she told reporters on Sunday. 

The advice was also supported by NZC’s security consultants and other independent sources, the cricket board said. 

While the general tenor of the threat was immediately shared with the PCB, White said specific details could not, and will not, be disclosed. 

White also addressed a report on news website www.stuff.co.nz that claimed a member of the team had received death threats before embarking on the tour of Pakistan. He said the email threats were “forwarded to our security provider,” and “were proved to be hoax and not credible.” 


Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out

Updated 18 September 2021

Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out

  • New Zealand would have been the highest profile team to play in Pakistan in more than a decade
  • Pakistan have only hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since the 2009 attacks

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cricket began confronting its worst fear Saturday, with the national side staring at another era of isolation from hosting international matches after New Zealand abandoned its tour, citing a security threat.
The All Blacks called off their first Pakistan series in 18 years with Wellington’s backing on Friday just before the first one-day international was due to start in Rawalpindi.
The decision has left cricket-crazy Pakistan reeling, with the nation still recovering from the 2009 militant attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore that wounded six players.
Already struggling to convince foreign teams to tour, Pakistan were forced to play home matches at neutral venues — primarily in the UAE — following the assault.
The decision left a generation of cricket fans growing up having never attended a live game.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former international cricketing hero, and the Pakistan Cricket Board will now have to work overtime to avoid another period of exile.
“With the administration they now have in place at the PCB and how closely linked to the PM it is, there’ll be a real push to ensure they have to play as little as possible in a neutral venue,” cricket writer Osman Samiuddin told AFP.
Their first task will be to convince England, who decide Sunday whether to send their men’s and women’s teams for a scheduled tour to Pakistan next month.
Those tours are to be followed by a series against the West Indies in December and Australia’s first visit since 1998 in February next year.
“England are now likely not to tour. Australia... will also probably not come. So that will be a hit,” Samiuddin said.
“And for fans too, they’ve only just started getting used to going to big games again so for the prospect of that being taken away, it’s going to hurt.”
The newly elected chairman of the PCB Ramiz Raja admitted Saturday that Pakistani cricket was facing “a lot of pressure,” though not for the first time — and that the nation was resilient.
“Your pain and my pain is the same, it’s a shared pain. Whatever happened was not good for Pakistan cricket,” he said.
The PCB bled $200 million in losses during the country’s cricket exile.
Now, alongside the upcoming tours, its bids to host six international events — including the World Cup and Champion’s Trophy between 2024-31 — could also be in jeopardy.
Former players say keeping international cricket in Pakistan is the key priority.
“All cricketers are with the PCB and we have to find ways to avoid further isolation, for the sake of our next generations,” former captain Rashid Latif told AFP.
New Zealand would have been the highest profile team to play in Pakistan in more than a decade.
Pakistan have only hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since the 2009 attacks.
Ex-player Naushad Ali said his country needs to restore the confidence of the cricketing world.
“Pakistan will have to prove that New Zealand’s decision was wrong and I think only that will earn them sympathy,” said Ali.
“We should not give up our hosting rights and should lobby with other countries.”
But former captain Shahid Afridi believes they have sacrificed a lot over the years and deserve “a better deal.”
“We have done more than enough for them,” he said.
“We toured England and New Zealand (last year) despite fears of pandemic and we want them to reciprocate.”


Salah strike helps Liverpool to top of the table with Palace win

Updated 18 September 2021

Salah strike helps Liverpool to top of the table with Palace win

  • Defending champions Manchester City drop two points at home to Southampton
  • Arsenal beat Burnley and continue climb up table

LONDON: Martin Odegaard scored his first goal since his permanent switch to Arsenal on Saturday to further ease the pressure on Mikel Arteta as Sadio Mane helped fire Liverpool to the top of the Premier League.
Defending champions Manchester City dropped two points at home to Southampton after a 0-0 stalemate while struggling Wolves lost their fourth match in five against 10-man Brentford.
Arsenal were rock bottom of the table before last week’s fixtures but wins against Norwich and now Burnley lifted them to the relative comfort of 12th spot before the late kick-off between Aston Villa and Everton.
Odegaard, who signed from Real Madrid last month after spending part of last season at the Emirates on loan, broke the deadlock in the 30th minute, curling home a free-kick to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at Turf Moor.
Arsenal breathed a sigh of relief when VAR overturned a penalty awarded to Burnley in the second half after Matej Vydra tumbled to the turf following a challenge by goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
Liverpool forward Mane continued his eye-catching run against Crystal Palace, netting in his ninth league match in a row against the London side to send Jurgen Klopp’s men top of the table with a 3-0 win.
Mohamed Salah’s glancing header from Konstantinos Tsimikas’ corner was kept out by goalkeeper Vicente Guaita but Mane pounced to lash home his 100th goal for Liverpool in all competitions.
Salah doubled the Reds’ lead in the 78th minute before Naby Keita sealed the win with a sweetly struck volley.
Liverpool, champions in 2020, have made an impressive start to the season, scoring 12 goals in their opening five games and conceding just once.
Manchester City will rue their inability to beat Southampton at the Etihad after consecutive 5-0 home wins.
It could have been worse for them after referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot when Kyle Walker bundled into the back of Adam Armstrong in the area, showing the England international a red card.
But the incident was reviewed by VAR and Moss eventually decided to overturn both decisions.
The build-up to City’s match was dominated by a row over attendance levels at the Etihad, with manager Pep Guardiola urging fans to fill empty seats in comments that irritated some supporters.
But fans were frustrated by battling Southampton, who kept City’s attackers at bay despite relentless pressure.
The home side thought they had snatched victory in the dying minutes after goalkeeper Alex McCarthy saved a Phil Foden header and Raheem Sterling tucked in the rebound but the flag was raised.
Watford beat Norwich 3-1 to condemn the newly promoted Canaries to their fifth consecutive defeat.
Watford took the lead in the 17th minute through Emmanuel Dennis but Teemu Pukki equalized before half time. Ismaila Sarr put the visitors back in front in the 63rd minute and scored again with 10 minutes to go.
In the early kick-off, Ivan Toney scored a goal and created another as 10-man Brentford beat Wolves 2-0 to maintain their impressive start to their first Premier League campaign.
The 25-year-old striker won and converted a penalty before setting up Bryan Mbeumo as the Bees prevailed at Molineux despite Shandon Baptiste’s red card in the second half.
Tottenham host Chelsea on Sunday while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United travel to West Ham.


New Zealand Cricket silent on security threat ending Pakistan tour

Updated 18 September 2021

New Zealand Cricket silent on security threat ending Pakistan tour

  • The foreign ministry in Wellington says the country’s cricket board makes its own security decisions for foreign tours
  • New Zealand Cricket had said on Friday it was abandoning the Pakistan tour following its government’s ‘security alert’

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Cricket officials on Saturday threw a veil of secrecy over the security threat that forced the abrupt cancelation of their Pakistan tour.
According to Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Pakistan leader Imran Khan that the team feared an attack outside the stadium.
The cancelation is a huge setback for Pakistan, which has been trying to revive tours by foreign sides after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terror attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009.
The announcement on Friday that the series had been called off came just as the first one-day international was due to start at Rawalpindi Stadium, 10 kilometers (six miles) from the team hotel in Islamabad.
In a brief public statement, Ardern said the New Zealand government supported the cancelation as “player safety has to be paramount.”
The foreign ministry, which has been in contact with New Zealand Cricket, said there was an “ongoing and significant threat from terrorism throughout Pakistan” but would not comment on specific security concerns.
“New Zealand Cricket makes its own security decisions and has its own security arrangements in place for all international tours,” a ministry spokesman said.
When New Zealand Cricket first announced it was abandoning the Pakistan tour, it said the decision followed “a New Zealand government security alert” and advice from its own security advisers.
The side previously cut short a tour in 2002 after a suicide bombing outside their team hotel in Karachi killed 14 people, including 11 French naval engineers.
A New Zealand Cricket official told AFP no further comment was planned “at this juncture” and would not say if the security threat that caused the cancelation had been passed to the Pakistan Cricket Board or any other cricket-playing nation.
The England and Wales Cricket Board has said it will decide in the next 48 hours whether to withdraw from a tour planned for next month, while the West Indies and Australia are also scheduled to tour in the next six months.
Pakistan’s interior minister Ahmad was adamant there was “no threat to cricket in Pakistan, there was no threat to New Zealand and there is no threat to England.”
New Zealand were in Pakistan for the first time since 2003 and were due to play three ODIs, followed by five Twenty20 matches.