Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Casey's Journal: The End

(Mavs trainer Casey Smith also performed those duties for Team USA. He kept a journal on life at the Olympics in Beijing. This is the last entry.)

So I am on a plane from Minneapolis to Dallas. It has been 21 hours since we left the hotel in Beijing, and it will be another 2 or 3 before I get home. I’m tired, hung-over, happy, need a shower, and officially tired of hotel food, shampoo in tiny bottles and 2 inch bars of soap. I can’t remember what it is like to drive a car, use a real key, or use a remote that I don’t have to wonder which button controls what.

But I can say that this has honestly been the best professional and to some extent personal experience I have had. The World Championships in 2006 that entailed the trips to China, Korea, and Japan seem like a lifetime ago. I know more about the geography of Las Vegas (where we have had 3 years of training camps) than I do Dallas … almost.

In our sports world there truly are few comparisons to what the team has experienced. The pressure to win and the performance that was turned in by the players is unimaginable. In the regular NBA season, you can always qualify the wins/losses as good/bad, great season, we overachieved, etc. But in this situation, you simply could not lose 1 game. Think about that. Not a single game.

For example, think about the Lakers this season. They had a better season than almost everyone expected, Kobe won the MVP, they have high hopes for next season, but they lost 4 of their last 6 games. But everyone says “Yeah, but they had a great season.” There isn’t any such luxury for these guys.

We flew from Beijing to Anchorage this morning to clear customs and refuel. Then we flew to Minneapolis where we all caught flights to take us to our final destinations. So at the airport in Anchorage, I was reading some of the media coverage of the game yesterday, and I read the Associated Press article that ESPN had up first. It is probably the most widely read account of the game that will be printed in newspapers worldwide.

So it’s obvious how I feel about the team, and of course the guy from the AP simply qualified the victory as lucky. Luck? Are you kidding me? Luck like hitting 45% of our 3-point shots, luck like hitting almost all of our free throws in the second half, luck like not caving under extreme pressure, luck like weathering horrendous officiating, luck like taking the best game that Spain (who starts 5 players drafted by the NBA and one that will be when he is old enough) could hope to offer and still beating them by 11 points.

So 2 games played a combined 48 point differential and we are lucky. Anyway, the people that were there, the people that watched it know that it wasn’t luck, it was the exact position that these guys are faced with every time they take the floor against international competition. They have to play as well as they can or try every time. But it was just luck. Anyway, vent officially over.

Quite a few people have asked me what the locker room was like after the game, and the locker room was actually a little surreal and subdued. The on-court scene immediately after the final buzzer and the sensation with 25 seconds left was just an overwhelming sense of relief and pride. To see that these guys really had taken the task at hand seriously literally almost day-in and day-out was impressive. In the locker room, everyone was just a little dazed. Some of my favorite moments from the day were:

• The raising of the American Flag after the medal presentation. This really is an easy one, but it is more emotional than you think.
• The look on Coach K’s face with 25 seconds to go and he realizes that this is really happening.
• The look on the face of the people that work day-in and day-out for USA Basketball. They have lived this for 8 years since the last gold. For the rest of us it has been a summer job. For them it has been their lives.
• Watching Argentina and Spain, the other Medal winners, watching our guys celebrate in the hallway prior to walking out for the Medal Ceremony.
• The bus ride back to the hotel when the guys let loose the champagne sprays. We didn’t do it in the locker room at the USOC’s request, so to do that in such a small space was crazy.
• The way that all 12 of the players stepped up to the podium in unison.
• All 12 of the players going to the postgame press conference, instead of only a selected few.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough. I have attached 3 pics. The first is the guys at center court immediately after the final horn sounded, and the other 2 are self explanatory (first and second). I will see you all down the road.

All the best,
Casey

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