Leland Stein III

Posts Tagged ‘2012 Summer Olympics’

In Bryant’s final All-Star game NBA rolls out red carpet

In sports column on February 17, 2016 at 3:55 am

Westbrook wins MVP, but Bryant’s legacy is also an MVP

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Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry and others celebrate the West’s win. Gary Montgomery photo

By Leland Stein III

TORONTO – Did I just witness a NBA Ballet experience?

ap-all-star-game-basketball

Kobe Bryant and his two daughters.

From these humble eyes I would offer there never were more demonstrations of athletic movements akin to ballet than at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto, Canada – the first All-Star event played outside the United States.

With professional athletes’ rapid and swift action in NBA basketball, the violence and physicality of NFL football and the hand-eye-coordination of MLB baseball players, the smooth athleticism of a professional athlete’s body in action gets lost on fans without replay, because the action happens too briskly.

Leland Stein III

The annual NBA All-Star Game and its super stars, celebrity filled contingent along with 19,800, descended on Air Canada Centre in Downtown Toronto and were not dissatisfied as Western Conference outran the Eastern Conference in a record breaking score of 196 to 173.

The teams combined for a record 369 points. The previous All-Star Game record was 321 points in 2015.

After all the running and gunning, even Paul George’s 41 points – one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game record set in 1962 – and an All-Star Game record nine three-pointers, could not keep the explosive Russell Westbrook from being named All-Star MVP for the second year in a row after he tossed in 31 points (including seven three-pointers), grabbed eight rebounds, with five assists and five steals.

No matter, the day still belonged to the Lakers’ retiring Kobe Bryant.

Bryant played in his 15th All-Star Game, which tied him with Tim Duncan for second most all time. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the record with 18. Bryant extended his own record by starting an All-Star Game for the 15th time and he also recorded one steal (his 38th) to break a first-place tie with Michael Jordan (37) for most steals in the games’ history.

LeBron James finished with 13 points and Bryant 10 points to become the all-time scoring leader in the Game’s history. James has 291 points and Bryant has 290.

“I do not care about being the scoring leader,” James said. “It was just bittersweet being out on the floor with him, knowing the matches between us are coming to an end. But when you get that opportunity versus a great man, you just have fun with it.”

James continued: “I know it’s been overwhelming for him over this year, but our fans across the world and here in the States and here in Toronto have been paying so much respect. It’s all well deserved. I’m happy that I’ve been along for a small piece of the ride of his journey. We’re very good friends, and I’ve been watching his journey for 20 years. When I don’t see him out there in Charlotte, I think that’s when it will sink in that it is over.”

Bryant a five-time NBA Finals champion, a two time Olympic Gold medalist, an 18-time Western Conference All-Star, a four-time All-Star Game MVP, NBA league’s MVP in 2008 and a two-time Finals MVP had the international gathering in Toronto calling his name.

After the team introductions, Magic Johnson came out to specially anoint/announce Kobe. He joyfully exclaimed the noteworthy history Bryant has put down and right after he gave the mike to him and the fans broke into a continuous Koooooobe Bryyyyyyyant chant. That was just the start of the lovefest. A tribute video featuring Bryant’s highlights, his voice and interviews with many of today’s players followed right after.

In the post-game press conference Bryant talked about his interaction with the legends of the game and today’s players. “I think it’s the stories of when I and they first came into the league,” he recalled, “and when we were matching up against each other, and just kind of the little things like an elbow here or a steal here, and then wanting to earn the legends respect at an early age and later the young ones wanting to earn my respect.

“When I heard those kinds of stories that made me feels real good. Because over the years you’re competing against each other. Those aren’t stories you’re ever going to share with somebody that you’re competing against. But at this stage, it felt absolutely wonderful to hear these things.”

Bryant brought his wife and kids to the game and he was elated to share the moments with them.

“My kids were sitting right behind the bench,” Bryant happily exclaimed, “so I was talking to them virtually the whole game. They’ve enjoyed this as much as I have, coming to these arenas. You know, they’ve seen me throughout the years get up at 4:00 in the morning and work out and train and come home and work out again. So it’s awesome, as a father, for them to be able to see all the hard work and how it pays off.”

We asked Bryant about Allen Iverson and Shaq O’Neal being announced as finalists for the Hall of Fame.

“Shaq obviously on a more personal level, having played together for so many years and winning three championships, right, and all that he’s meant to the game, and meant to me personally. And AI as a competitor, he drove me to be as obsessive, more obsessive about the game, because I had to figure out how to solve that problem, you know? And I told him — I saw him here this weekend. I said, ‘You don’t realize how much you pushed me.’ And I don’t think people nowadays realize how great he was as a player and how big of a problem he was for defenses.”

When asked if he talked to NBA legends Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson during the weekend, Bryant noted that he did not feel the role of caretaker after Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas retired, but he did want to represent the league and himself.

“For sure there was a lot of concern voiced from the elder statesmen, including Magic,” Bryant recalled, “about what kind of caretakers AI and I were going to be for the game. Oscar and I have spoken throughout the years sporadically. Russell and I have talked more often, and he’s given me a lot of great advice on leadership and competitiveness and things of that sort.

“But as far as the league, when we first came in, it’s always the younger generation that comes in and it’s just like the elder statesmen says this younger generation has no idea what they’re doing. They’re going to absolutely kill the game. The game, when we played, was pure and all this kind of stuff. Hey, man, that’s always the case. When we came in, we were just young kids that wanted to play, and AI was aggressive. It was a newer generation, newer culture, but I think when David Stern changed the dress code somewhere in between that, that helped, I think. But, yeah, I think the game is in a beautiful place now.”

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich the winning West coach said: “It’s kind of bittersweet. You remember all the struggles against him and all the competitiveness and you respect him so much for bringing it night after night after night. You know, a lot of players don’t understand that responsibility to be able to do that at that level, and he does it fiercely for all these years. So to see him now, it’s like the passing of a generation and he’s been such an iconic figure for so long, and he passes it on to that other group of young guys that you saw out there tonight. So I’m just thrilled that I was able to be here and see that.”

Stephen Curry interjected: “The entire night was very memorable, for sure, with Kobe’s entrance during the starting lineups and the tribute video, Magic Johnson giving a speech about him and his legacy to some highlight moments. Then the curtain call at the end that you knew it was coming, but you didn’t know what part of the game and the feel that the crowd was going to give, and it was amazing. Kind of got goose bumps out there. Kobe means something to everybody individually as a basketball fan and including us, as players. So you kind of have a lot of different thoughts about what he means to the game and how he inspired others and me growing up. I’ll remember that for sure.”

It may have been Bryant’s farewell, but the NBA ballet went on. In particular, I talked to NBA Hall of Famer and Slam Dunk judge, George “Ice Man” Gervin about the slam dunk contest results. I kind of thought that Aaron Gordon’s dunks were enough to at least earn him a tie if not the win in the most talked about contest since Dominique Wilkins vs. Spud Webb.

“I have to admit that Gordon put it down,” Gervin told me, “but he had a number of misses before his great dunks. Zach LaVine nailed his on the first try. We had to give it to him based on that.”

In all it was a special weekend for me and I was elated that Bryant, a person I have known since he first came into the league was feted, but being in Canada made it even more special.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

 

USA Women dominate 2012 London Olympics

In sports column on January 14, 2013 at 12:19 am

MBy Leland Stein III

LONDON – Triumph and tragedy. Stars were born, and legends were toppled. But in the end the superstars were indeed super.

The 2012 London Olympic Games, lived up to the hype and even more. What makes the Olympic Games so intriguing and captivating is that it happens only once every four years.

Just think an Olympic athlete has to peak at every four years. There is no room for mistakes and/or I‘ll get it done next year attitude if an athlete has a bad day – simply put there is no tomorrow. In the sports genre . . . the Games are the ultimate do it now or never opportunity for many.

Gold Medal winning USA 4x400-meter relay (l to r , Allyson Felix, Deedee Trotter, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Francena McCorory.

Gold Medal winning USA 4×400-meter relay (l to r , Allyson Felix, Deedee Trotter, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Francena McCorory.

Sure there are always a few superstar men and women that have the gift of ability, tenacity, courage, commitment and single mindedness that are all necessary to just compete in the Games let along win more than one title.

Well, superstar swimmer Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (18, double that of the next highest record holders). In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phelps won four golds and two silver medals.

Maybe even greater was the effort of Jamaican phenomenon sprinter Usain Bolt. He made himself a true legend of sport with his unprecedented second gold triple triple – winning the 100-, 200- and 4×100-meter relay.

The 25-year-old Bolt in the face of stronger competitors than in Beijing, unleashed that intrinsic determination and drive that only a superior athlete processes.

London famous Tower Bridge. - Jon Gaede photo

London famous Tower Bridge. – Jon Gaede photo

USA gymnast Gabby Douglas, 17, became the first African-American to win the all-around Olympic gymnastics title in London. She later was chosen The Associated Press female athlete of the year. Her autobiography, “Grace, Gold and Glory,” became No. 4 on the New York Times’ young adult list. She, along with here gold medal teammates recently completed a 40-city gymnastics tour, in which she got to meet President Barack Obama.

Another women’s star that rocked the sports world was Serena Williams. She won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the London Games two years after her career was nearly derailed by health problems. She and her sister Venus won their third Olympic doubles title and she also won her first single’s gold medal.

Also high on my memory list is how the American women rocked the Olympic Games. Douglas and her gymnastics squad won the team gold medal. Swimmers Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt were multiple golden. There were track and field stars Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross that chewed up the track.

Gabby Douglas. Leland Stein III photo

Gabby Douglas. Leland Stein III photo

One of my favorite athletes had to have been the 800-meter runner from Kenya, David Rudisha, who set a world record in winning the gold medal. I have never seen anyone with a more beautiful stride and running gait.

Also with the Games being in London, being in the stadium to witness Great Britain’s Mo Farah win the 10,000- and 5000-meters in thrilling style, as well as watching British darling Jessica Enis win the heptathlon . . . at both events if there had been a roof on the stadium it would have come off as 80,000 people roared both to victory while waving the Union Jack.

The Olympics are a celebration of humanity and people, where for close to a month all of this earth’s brothers and sisters come together in a friendly spirit of competition that challenges not only their opponent, but themselves and us to keep the spirit of peaceful integrated humanity alive.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter at LelandSteinIII

 

USA Basketball on top of the World

In sports column on September 10, 2012 at 3:48 pm

USA Men celebrate gold in London Games. Leland Stein II photo

By Leland Stein III

LONDON – The United States Women’s and Men’s Senior National Basketball teams have proven that the round ball is truly  American’s game. In spited of the fact international men’s teams had over 20 players presently playing in the NBA, as opposed to the 1992 Dream Team having only 6 NBA players were on their  international teams.

The USA Basketball foundation and organization is now firmly planted on solid ground and during the 2012 Olympic Games it once again proved that the best basketball in the world is played every year right here in the NBA.

The linchpin behind the USA Men’s resurgence has been the inclusion of Jerry Colangelo as the Managing Director of USA Basketball Senior National team in 2005. He promptly hired Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

USA Women win 5th consecutive gold medal at the Olympic Games. Gary Montgomery photoColangelo has confidently rebuilt the program from the bottom up. Obtaining the involvement of the NBA’s top players (Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James) and naming Duke University’s Hall of Fame mentor Mike Krzyzewski as the USA National Team head coach.

In the 2004 Olympics the USA Men earned a bronze medal and in the 2006 FIBA World Championships the US Men earned another bronze.

“Coach K (Krzyzewski), LeBron (James) and I met in Las Vegas to discuss being a part of the US team,” Carmelp Anthony told me, following his joyous Gold medal victory. “He said it would take a commitment, but in the end it would be worth the effort. LeBron and I are the only one’s remaining from the original teams in 2004. We endured the ups and downs and now we have put together a system that works.”

Added James: “Coach K and I have been a part of the whole USA rebuilding process. We share the same Olympic tract and that makes this win even that more special. I made a commitment to be a part of this. It was a long journey to get to 2008 and now 2012, but eight years later we are back on top.”

Through the solidifying efforts of Colangelo and Krzyzewski along with the commitments of Anthony and James, and, the wooing of Bryant in 2007, the foundation of USA Men’s Basketball is entrenched.

In the 2012 Olympic Games Final, a rematch with Spain, young upstart Kevin Durant scored 30 points in a contest that featured 16 lead changes and six tied scores no matter, the U.S held off Spain for a 107-100 win to capture the Olympic gold medal.

While Anthony and James earned a second gold medal in a third Olympic appearance; three more were members of the gold-medal winning team in 2008, Bryant, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Playing in their first Olympics were Tyson Chandler, Anthony Davis, Durant, James Harden, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Andre Iguodala.

“It was very emotional,” Bryant said starring at his 2012 gold medal. “You just kind of think back on the journey, so to speak. Being here for your last go-round, wearing USA on your chest, it’s very emotional.”

Meanwhile, for the USA Women it was business as usual. Since the inclusion of the women in Olympic Basketball in 1976, where the Soviet Union won the first two Games, the US Women captured its unprecedented fifth-straight Olympic gold (dating back to 1996), a feat never before accomplished in any women’s traditional team sport, the USA women have compiled a 41-game Olympic winning streak that began with the 1992 bronze medal game.

This time around the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team posted a 86-50 win over France at North Greenwich Arena in London, England.

“You know, you go into every game thinking that there’s going to be some things that you have to do, and if you do those things you’re going to have a chance you can win it,” said Geno Auriemma, USA and University of Connecticut head coach. “France was probably playing as well as anytime I’ve ever seen them, since I’ve been the coach.”

Said Candace Parker: “I think that this is just so sweet to get the second one. You can stumble on a championship once, but it’s really hard to do it twice. And for USA Basketball to do it five times in a row, that’s truly special.”

The gold medal is a third for Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings. While Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Swin Cash, and Parker also earned their second gold. Tina Charles, Asjha Jones, Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen all got their first gold.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII