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COLUMNISTS

Fri, August 27, 2004

Black mark on Brown


Larry Brown couldn't help himself or the reputation of his country. He could have watched the clock wind down, accept the victory, but instead he had to be so very American.

So very American at an Olympic Games where anti-American sentiment has almost become a medal sport.

The win wasn't enough for Brown, the U.S. basketball coach: He had to create an incident along the way.

There was the latest version of the Dream Team, barely breathing, losing to Puerto Rico and Lithuania, behaving well but playing badly, and suddenly it had first-place Spain on the ropes in the quarter-finals at the Olympic Hall, here in Athens, and Brown did what he didn't have to do.

He called timeout.

He called timeout with 20 seconds to play and an 11-point American lead and suddenly a wild, frenetic, Olympic men's basketball game lost itself in name-calling, finger-pointing and everything that makes the National Basketball Association great. It made for terrific theatre but a devastating defeat for the Spaniards.

The timeout so enraged Spanish coach Mario Pesquera that the game ended with a verbal exchange in languages neither understood and all kinds of histrionics on the court following the 102-94 American win that eliminated the previously unbeaten Spaniards.

"I had a lot of respect for Larry Brown," Pesquera said through an interpreter. "But I think when you do something wrong, and we all do some things wrong, you can always say sorry. You can say sorry if you make a mistake."

LAME RATIONALE

Brown didn't say he was sorry. He didn't offer a handshake to the Spanish coach at the post-game news conference. In fact, he never even looked at the man.

He did offer up a lame rationale for calling the late timeout -- a rub-your-nose-in-it tactic if ever there was one -- claiming he thought there was more time left on the clock and less of a lead at the time.

The gamesheet defeats Brown's apparent apology. Then, to further inflame the argument, Brown all but called the Spanish coach an immature kid.

"That was a like a disagreement with my son," Brown, the Detroit Pistons coach, said. "I tried to explain and he didn't want to hear it. I tried to apologize. I tried to explain. And he kept saying something about the NBA. So that's the way it is again.

"I would never try to embarrass anybody ... I don't know if he understood (the apology). All you can do is apologize and move on."

Brown said all this while sitting two seats away from Pesquera at the very organized, usually dry, Olympic news conference. He talked about the man, just never acknowledged his presence.

LANGUAGE BARRIER

The language barrier was obvious between the two coaches and even the interpretations suffered. "He said I'm like a son to him," Pesquera said. "But I don't understand the way he did that ...

"I will continue to respect Larry Brown as a coach, but a coach who is up there with the best, like Dean Smith, would never have done something like that."

This is the way it almost always goes for U.S. basketball teams at the Olympics since NBA players and coaches became involved in 1992. Someone representing the U.S. does something to insult somebody. Often unintentionally. Often inadvertently unless Charles Barkley is involved.

But in the highly charged anti-American -- and pro-Spanish -- atmosphere at the basketball venue yesterday the emotions were apparent.

Pao Gasol, the Spanish star who plays in Memphis, fell to his knees when the game ended. "I'm hurt (by this)," he said. "This was our big chance to make a statement. We were confident, the way they were playing."

They didn't expect to lose, didn't expect a scene, didn't expect to have the winning coach toying with their emotions.


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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