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France 89, USA 79: Good for World Hoops and USA, Too

September 12th, 2019 · No Comments · Basketball, Olympics

We live in France. We can vouch for this.

The 89-79 French victory over the United States in the Fiba World Cup quarterfinals yesterday was such a big deal over here that at least two national news shows — including that of government flagship TF1 — led their prime-time broadcasts with the news from Les Bleus, called a victoire historique by both stations.

Some stateside observers might see the result as a disaster for American basketball, snapping a 58-game winning streak stretching back to 2006 in world tournaments that include NBA players. That is, the Olympics and the World Cup.

But that is short-term thinking.

In the long run, France’s victory is likely to encourage international teams around the world, and grow the sport — which might already be the second-most popular team activity in the world.

The result also could jolt the Yanks out of the apathy that led to exactly one American All-NBA player — third-team guard Kemba Walker — accepting the call from the U.S. federation to play in the quadrennial tournament.

Which Americans ignored the call? Pretty much everyone else with any sort of star status in the NBA.

That would include a couple of Lakers, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and a couple of Clippers, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George … and everyone else, from Stephen Curry to James Harden, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook …

First, the French.

Observers of the tournament had figured France for one of the half-dozen teams that could beat the star-starved U.S. team.

Turns out, France had as many All-NBA players in uniform as did U.S. coach Gregg Popovich — one.

Kemba Walker, eh? We call and raise you — with seven-foot defensive dynamo Rudi Gobert.

It was the “Stifle Tower” who contributed the biggest effort, and there he was, smiling broadly on French TV within minutes of the victory over the Americans in Dongguan, China.

Gobert, the Utah Jazz star, scored 21 points and took 16 rebounds, and Evan Fournier of the Orlando Magic scored 22 points as the French took control of the game with a 20-5 sprint to the buzzer.

I recognized exactly two other names on the France roster, swingman Nicolas Batum of the Charlotte Hornets and guard Frank Ntilikina, mostly known as being a draft bust for the New York Knicks.

The U.S. answered with recognizable NBA players, including Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, who scored 29, but the U.S. team was mostly second options or sidekicks — like Harrison Barnes, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton …

Basketball has evolved, and at least half a dozen national teams that do not play under the stars and stripes can give the Americans trouble, especially when the A Team is back home.

About the only consolation for the Yanks is that by reaching the World Cup quarterfinals the team qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which are less than a year away.

Presumably, a few of the missing standouts will clear time on their calendars and make it over to Japan.

Something a bit more prestigious — Olympic gold — will be at stake there.

At the moment, the topic is France winning 89-79, making national news and moving to the semifinals with three solid teams — Spain, Argentina and Australia — and Oz beat the Yanks in a warmup game for the current tournament.

One very strong group will end as world champions, inspiring other basketball powers to keep pushing. And one very strong group will watch from their homes in the states. Maybe a few of the best will be incited to join the team for Tokyo 2020.


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