The U.S. men’s basketball team looked a little bit out of sync in its Olympic tuneup Monday night against Brazil in Washington, D.C., and with good reason.
The Brazilians certainly had a hand in forcing Team USA out of its comfort zone, but the more likely excuse was the added pressure of having to perform in front of the 44th President of the United States.
President Barack Obama, as well as First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, were among the sellout crowd at the Verizon Center to watch Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and the rest of the American squad that will represent the United States in the 2012 Summer Games in London.
When the president walked over to his courtside seat prior to tipoff, all eyes in the arena were fixated on the jumbotron. Durant, who grew up in the D.C. area, couldn’t help notice the presence of the leader of the free world in the arena, as did teammates Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, LeBron, Kobe, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, James Harden, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, and Anthony Davis.
“You have dreams about being in the NBA. You have dreams about making the game-winning shot at the buzzer. You never have dreams about having the president actually watching you play, because you don’t think it’s possible,” LeBron told The Associated Press.
“It’s definitely humbling, to see him here, the first lady and their kids here to watch us play. Really, it’s amazing.”
The added distraction may have contributed to the team’s slow start, as Brazil jumped to a 27-17 lead in the first quarter. The Americans erased any upset bids in the second quarter when they turned it up defensively and held Brazil to just five points in the second quarter. The U.S. took a 32-32 lead into halftime.
“Between Nene, Varejao, and Barbosa, they have a good team. It took a while for our guys to kind of get in a rhythm,” Obama told ESPN’s Mark Jones. “We’re so much deeper that you get a sense they’ll wear them down. I don’t think it’ll be close in the second half.”
Well, Obama’s second-half prediction didn’t quite happen as the Brazilians kept the game close and didn’t allow the Americans to run them out of the gym. The U.S. eventually pulled out an 80-69 victory thanks to LeBron’s game-high 30 points (including 14 in the fourth quarter). It was a far more difficult challenge than the 113-59 blowout win against the Dominican Republic in Las Vegas on July 12.
Despite the disjointed performance against Brazil, President Obama is confident LeBron and Co. will right the ship once the Olympics start on July 27.
“Coach K is one of the greatest coaches of all time. He knows how to bring folks together and think like a team. And obviously the talent that we have at this point is unbelievable. There’s no reason we shouldn’t bring home the gold,” Obama said.
“One thing I’m happy about is how hard everybody is playing,” Obama continued. “You really get a sense on how proud they are to represent the United States, and I think they’ll conduct themselves really well in London.”
As for the 1992 Olympic team vs. 2012 Olympic team debate, add President Obama to the list of people who disagree with Kobe’s recent boast that this year’s USA team could beat the Dream Team, led by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley.
“I was around in ’92. I was a Bulls fan so I gotta go with the original Dream Team,” Obama said. “And I suspect that Michael [Jordan] and Sir Charles [Barkley] would point out that they were never down at any point of their games.”
Obama added, “You know, Kobe’s a competitor, so you expect him to do a little trash talking whenever the opportunity arises.”