Mind the gap: The basketball world is catching up to the US

Mind the gap: The basketball world is catching up to the US
Poland’s Michael Hicks looks to pass around Japan’s Ira Brown (33) during a men’s 3-on-3 basketball game at the 2020 Summer Olympics Saturday. (AP)
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Updated 24 July 2021

Mind the gap: The basketball world is catching up to the US

Mind the gap: The basketball world is catching up to the US
  • The gap between USA Basketball and the rest of the world has tightened
  • Americans are the only team in Tokyo with 12 NBA players

SAITAMA, Japan: When the Dream Team era started in 1992, most of the NBA players in the Olympics represented the United States.
David Stern knew what would happen from there.
“In time,” the former NBA commissioner predicted in 1995, “that will change.”
Stern was right. The number of international players in the NBA has steadily risen since — and the gap between USA Basketball and the rest of the world has tightened as well. There will be more players in this tournament with NBA experience than ever before, with nearly 70 players in the Tokyo Olympics either current or former players in the league. More than four dozen of them played in the league this past season.
And only 12 of that group are in Japan to compete with “USA” across their chests.
That’s why, when this men’s Olympic tournament opens Sunday, the medal possibilities may be as wide open as they have been since that first team of NBA stars took the court in Barcelona. That group — which featured 11 future Hall of Famers on a 12-man roster — showed the rest of the world how much they had to do to catch the red, white and blue.
“The gap is smaller and smaller every year as far as talent is concerned,” US coach Gregg Popovich said.
The US is seeking a fourth consecutive gold medal and is the big favorite to do just that according to FanDuel, The Americans are the only team in Tokyo with 12 NBA players. But like Popovich said and Stern anticipated years ago, the talent gap has drastically dwindled.
Nigeria, which beat the Americans in an exhibition, has eight NBA players. Australia, which also defeated the US in a warm-up game, has seven. So does France, the first US opponent in this tournament on Sunday and the nation that knocked the Americans out of contention at the Basketball World Cup two years ago. That setback sent the team spiraling to a seventh-place finish, the worst showing in any tournament ever for an American roster composed of NBA players.
“I think every team wants to beat us,” US forward Kevin Durant said. “Everybody wants to see us lose, so every game has a little bit more pressure to it.”
There’s only one current All-NBA first team player in these Olympics. He doesn’t play for the US.
Slovenia’s Luka Doncic garnered more first-team votes in the All-NBA voting this season, 55, than the entire US Olympic roster got combined. This is Slovenia’s first time in the Olympics, but with Doncic leading the way, medal talk doesn’t seem misguided.
“Slovenians, we know how to fight, man,” Doncic said. “We’re not going to go down easy.”
Doncic willed Slovenia to a win in the Olympic qualifying tournament that ended on July 4 and gave the tiny nation a spot in the Tokyo field. And what he’s done in his NBA tenure with Dallas has only shown the world that the buzz he arrived with was more than appropriate.
“He’s a spectacular player, as we all know,” Popovich said. “He’s one of the best players in the world. And I emphasize, in the world. He showed himself early on in Europe, and he was a fast study in the NBA for sure. He’s fun to watch. His skills, his competitiveness, his size, his innate basketball IQ is so impressive. You put four hardworking people around him and you’ve got a hell of a team.”
There are 12 teams in the field; four will have to wait until Monday for their Olympic openers. Sunday’s schedule has Iran vs. the Czech Republic, Germany vs. Italy, Australia vs. Nigeria and then the US vs. France. The Monday men’s openers are Argentina vs. Slovenia and host Japan vs. reigning World Cup champion Spain.
The Miami Heat have four players at the Olympics, but only one plays for the US. The Heat have three players on Nigeria’s roster (KZ Okpala, Precious Achiuwa and Gabe Vincent Nnamdi), with Bam Adebayo playing for the US.
The only men’s team in the Olympic field without a current NBA player is Iran. That roster does, however, have a former NBA player — Hamed Haddadi, who appeared in 151 games over parts of five NBA seasons for Memphis and Phoenix. He last appeared in the NBA in 2013.
The women’s game is going on the same trajectory as the men’s when it comes to having more international players with WNBA experience in these Olympics than in any previous games. The US has 12 WNBA players on its roster, while Australia has nine current or former WNBA players and Canada has eight.
Slovenia coach Aleksander Sekulić, on what Doncic does for a team: “Everything looks way easier and he’s making other players good. Also, me, myself.”


Saudi football legend Sami Al-Jaber joins Adidas as brand ambassador

Saudi football legend Sami Al-Jaber joins Adidas as brand ambassador
Updated 17 sec ago

Saudi football legend Sami Al-Jaber joins Adidas as brand ambassador

Saudi football legend Sami Al-Jaber joins Adidas as brand ambassador
  • The former national captain joins Salman Al-Faraj for the “Impossible is Nothing” campaign

Saudi Arabian football legend Sami Al-Jaber has been announced as an ambassador for Adidas, becoming the latest addition to the growing list of local players from the Kingdom to have signed with the brand, including current Saudi national football team captain Salman Al-Faraj.

The announcement came as the nation celebrated its 91st National Day.

This partnership is part of the brand’s “Impossible Is Nothing” campaign and looks to empower and celebrate athletes and iconic sportspeople in the region, as well as ensure that regional and local sports communities are well represented and supported.

“It’s a feeling of immense pride and excitement to be joining the Adidas family,” Al-Jaber said. “Adidas’ brand attitude ‘Impossible Is Nothing’ is a message that really resonates with me both at a personal and professional level. Special thanks to Adidas for the continuous support to develop and engage local and regional communities through sport. Seeing possibilities in sport is key to achieving our purpose of changing lives.”

Al-Jaber is one of Saudi Arabia’s and the Middle East football’s greatest players, having scored 173 goals in 376 appearances for Al-Hilal, and 43 times in 163 matches for the national team. He also competed in four FIFA World Cups and scored three goals, more than any other Arab footballer.


Delhi Capitals back on top of IPL with 33-run win against Rajasthan Royals

Delhi Capitals back on top of IPL with 33-run win against Rajasthan Royals
Updated 23 min 8 sec ago

Delhi Capitals back on top of IPL with 33-run win against Rajasthan Royals

Delhi Capitals back on top of IPL with 33-run win against Rajasthan Royals
  • Delhi has 16 points from 10 games, two points more than second-placed Chennai Super Kings

ABU DHABI: Delhi Capitals returned to the top of the Indian Premier League with a 33-run victory over Rajasthan Royals on Saturday.
Delhi scored 154-6 after being asked to bat, its innings propelled by Shreyas Iyer’s 32-ball 43, captain Rishabh Pant’s run-a-ball 24 and Shimron Hetmyer’s 28 runs off 16 deliveries.
Rajasthan could only reach 121-6 in reply after collapsing to 6-2 in the second over and 48-4 in the 11th. Rajasthan captain Sanju Samson restored stability to the innings with a 53-ball 70 not out.
“I thought the total was chasable but we lost too many wickets and weren’t able to get any momentum,” Samson said.
Anrich Nortje returned figures of 2-18 from four overs.
Delhi has 16 points from 10 games, two points more than second-placed Chennai Super Kings which has played a game less. Rajasthan has eight points from nine games.
In the second game on Saturday, Punjab Kings beat last-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad by five runs at Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
Punjab moved to fifth place in the eight-team IPL after being put into bat and scoring 125-7, before containing Hyderabad to 120-7 in 20 overs.
Jason Holder was the biggest threat to Punjab, taking 3-19 with the ball and scoring 47 not out off 29 deliveries with the bat, including five sixes. But it wasn’t enough.
Hyderabad is out of playoff contention following its eighth defeat in nine games.


Overmatched All European ‘need a couple miracles’ to keep Ryder Cup

Overmatched All European ‘need a couple miracles’ to keep Ryder Cup
Updated 22 min 42 sec ago

Overmatched All European ‘need a couple miracles’ to keep Ryder Cup

Overmatched All European ‘need a couple miracles’ to keep Ryder Cup
  • The Europeans trail captain Steve Stricker’s young and hungry US squad 11-5

He can’t clone Jon Rahm. He can’t make any last-minute substitutions. He can’t sneak up and cut the laces on the Americans’ golf shoes or super-glue the head covers to their drivers.
All European captain Padraig Harrington can do at this point is post the lineup card, recite a few lines from Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech, wave his guys on their way Sunday morning and then pray. A lot.
Harrington knocked that first task off his to-do list late Saturday, predictably front-loading his lineup in a desperate bid to gain momentum and then somehow sustain it through the dozen singles matches. The Europeans trail captain Steve Stricker’s young and hungry US squad 11-5, and no team has ever come back from a deficit of more than four points.
Worse, after losing seven of the last nine cups, the Americans are out for revenge.
“They have run the score up on us before,” said Tony Finau. “And if we have the opportunity, we are going to run it up on them tomorrow.”
Avoiding embarrassment is a reasonable goal. Englishman Ian Poulter, hardly exaggerating Europe’s chances for a comeback, put it this way: “We need a couple of miracles.”
What the Europeans really need is a dozen players like Rahm, the steely eyed Spaniard who currently sits atop the world rankings. He has won all three of his team matches alongside countryman Sergio Garcia and tied the fourth, practically carrying England’s Tyrrell Hatton on his back.
“The team is playing good,” said Rahm, being more gracious than candid. Half of Europe’s squad has failed to contribute so much as a half-point. “Just putts not dropping in and a couple things here and there that just could happen that haven’t happened. I’d like to believe that things even out.
“Golf is a very complicated and ironic and sarcastic game sometimes,” Rahm added a moment later, “and teams can be capable of some great things, like the US has done so far the last two days. It could be our chance.”
Momentum is everything on the final day of the Ryder Cup. Anyone who has watched the scoreboard change colors like the temperature gauge in an overheating car knows how quickly a cushion can become a hot seat. Think of how fast the Europeans, holding a 10-6 lead, slid down the drain just ahead of American Justin Leonard’s putt at Brookline in 1999. Or the way the Europeans similarly turned the tables in 2012, erasing that same deficit for an improbable win at Medinah.
“I think we learned a lot of lessons from 2012,” said Stricker, who played on that team and lost his singles match to Martin Kaymer. “Probably the thing I can say is that we didn’t do a good job then putting our lineup out on Sunday. ... That was definitely one of the things that we were talking about up there tonight.
“So you know,” he said finally. “it’s hard to say if you got it right or not.”
With eight players ranked among the top 10 in the world and only one outside the top 20 — Scottie Scheffler, at No. 21 — Stricker’s job was picking through an embarrassment of riches.
Xander Schauffle, who went 3-0, leads off against also-winless Rory McIlroy. World No. 2-ranked Dustin Johnson, the squad’s oldest player and the only golfer on either side to go 4-0 through the team matches, will get to sleep in and plays in the sixth match against winless Paul Casey. Daniel Berger, one of six American rookies, wound up in the 12th spot against Matt Fitzpatrick, yet another European without a point.
Except for McIlroy, Harrington lined up all of his winless players in slots 6-12. Rahm plays the third match against Scottie Scheffler, and Garcia goes off fourth against long-hitting Bryson DeChambeau.
“These things can be done,” said Harrington, who played in the 1999 match at Brookline. “It is more of an individual game tomorrow and our job is getting them to focus on winning their point. That’s the biggest thing they can do to help the team.”


Saudi and expat runners mark national day with 91 mins 91.91 secs of racing in Jeddah

Saudi and expat runners mark national day with 91 mins 91.91 secs of racing in Jeddah
Updated 1 min 36 sec ago

Saudi and expat runners mark national day with 91 mins 91.91 secs of racing in Jeddah

Saudi and expat runners mark national day with 91 mins 91.91 secs of racing in Jeddah
  • Event was part of the Mazda 91st Saudi National Day series in Jeddah and Riyadh

JEDDAH: Over 300 runners of all backgrounds and abilities have taken part in the the Mazda 91st Saudi National Day series on the hills of of Usfan, Jeddah, in a race that lasted 91 mins and 91.91 secs.

Sponsors Under Armor marked the Kingdom’s national day with races in Jeddah and the capital on the same day to celebrate the country’s achievements over the past 91 years.

The events were in support of the national goal of encouraging people to lead a healthy and more active lifestyle.

Before the start of the Jeddah Run Series event, runners received a message from Saudi Olympic rower Husein Alireza from London.

“I wish you all the best luck in the race. It is a tough one, but it is a great preparation for Hijaz 50 race which will take place on Dec. 3, 2021,” he said. “I should be with you, so run all the time, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, but don’t give up. It is you against yourself up there, but the most important thing is just enjoy it. Good luck.”

Athletes aged from 18-60 ran through the area’s 9.1 km scenic trails for a duration of 91 mins, 91 secs, with Katie Philcox of the UK winning the women’s race, having covered 11.38 km in that time, and Johan Engelbrecht of South Africa coming first in the men’s competition with 16.27 km.

Hejaz Ultra, a trail-running and hiking group in Saudi Arabia, partnered with Under Armor to organize the event.

Commenting on the race and the Inspire Series, Nesreen Samir Ghonaim, the Saudi Chairlady of Hejaz Ultra, said: “We are proud to be part of the Mazda 91st Saudi National Day series run and to see Saudi Arabia’s growing fitness community come out for the day.”

Meanwhile, Fabrice Laborie, a French national who has been living in Saudi Arabia for 20 years and founded Hejaz Ultra in 2016, told Arab News that the race is a key family and corporate community event with a fantastic vibe and energy.

“This is a special day for Saudi Arabia and we decided to celebrate it with fellow athletes from Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Britain, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco and many others.” he said.

“Due to coronavirus procedures, we only registered around 305 runners this year in addition to a large number of virtual runners who were home or walking somewhere in the city.”

“We are proud to be part of the Under Armor series and to see Saudi Arabia’s growing fitness community come out for the day,” he added.

Laborie also expressed his admiration for the Saudi government’s aim to promote physical and social well-being and a healthier lifestyle by providing programs that encourage widespread and regular participation in sports and athletic activities.

Final results

Female runners:

1st Katie Philcox (UK) 11.38 km; 2nd Nujud Alharbi (Saudi Arabia) 10.10 km; 3rd Red Alvarez (Philippines) 9.88 km.

Male runners:

1st Johan Engelbrecht (South Africa) 16.27 km; 2nd Abubakr Gafar (Sudan) 16.20 km; 3rd Abdelrhim Ghad (Palestine) 16.17 km


Ten-man Dortmund crash without Haaland on Rose’s Gladbach return

Ten-man Dortmund crash without Haaland on Rose’s Gladbach return
Updated 25 September 2021

Ten-man Dortmund crash without Haaland on Rose’s Gladbach return

Ten-man Dortmund crash without Haaland on Rose’s Gladbach return
  • "We really missed Erling and Marco today, but we needed a bit more toughness and determination," admitted Dortmund defender Mats Hummels
  • Wolfsburg lost 3-1 at Hoffenheim, falling to third and losing second place on goal difference to Bayer Leverkusen

BERLIN: Defending champions Bayern Munich will finish the weekend three points clear at the top of the Bundesliga table after close rivals Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg both suffered away defeats on Saturday.
Without injured star striker Erling Braut Haaland and club captain Marco Reus, Dortmund had midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud sent off for two first-half yellow cards as their 1-0 defeat at Borussia Moenchengladbach left them fourth in the table.
“Of course, we really missed Erling and Marco today, but we needed a bit more toughness and determination,” admitted Dortmund defender Mats Hummels as the visitors played a man down for 50 minutes.
Earlier, Wolfsburg lost 3-1 at Hoffenheim, falling to third and losing second place on goal difference to Bayer Leverkusen, whose 18-year-old Germany international Florian Wirtz sealed a 1-0 win over Mainz to become the youngest player to reach the milestone of 10 Bundesliga goals.
Having lost both Haaland and Reus to injuries in training on Friday, the visitors struggled in front of goal as Moenchengladbach fans whistled Dortmund coach Marco Rose on his return to Borussia Park, where he was in charge for two years before quitting to join their Bundesliga rivals.
The match was decided shortly before half-time when Swiss midfielder Denis Zakaria beat England midfielder Jude Bellingham to the ball and fired the hosts ahead with the game’s first clear chance.
Emotions were running high and referee Denis Aytekin dished out eight yellow cards, two of which were shown to Dahoud.
He was booked early for fouling Gladbach captain Lars Stindl, and then sent off on 40 minutes for a late tackle on US defender Joe Scally.
Dortmund squandered the chance to grab a late equalizer when Belgium winger Thorgan Hazard headed over in added time.
Haaland and Reus face a race against time to be fit for Tuesday’s Champions League game at home to Sporting Lisbon while Saturday’s win hauled Gladbach up from the relegation places to 11th.
Wolfsburg took the lead in Sinsheim when winger Ridle Baku fired in a stunning long-range shot from the left flank, but Andrej Kramaric, Christoph Baumgartner and Pavel Kaderabek scored three unanswered goals for Hoffenheim.
“It’s a shame we didn’t take the points, but Hoffenheim were very efficient — better than us in that regards,” said Wolfsburg head coach Mark van Bommel after his first league defeat in charge.
RB Leipzig picked up a much-needed confidence boost before Tuesday’s home Champions League game against Brugge with a 6-0 thrashing of Hertha Berlin.
Three defeats in their opening five league games, as well as a 6-3 thrashing at Manchester City in Europe, had piled pressure on Leipzig coach Jesse Marsch.
The American reacted by switching Denmark forward Yussuf Poulsen up front for struggling new striker Andre Silva.
Poulsen linked up with French winger Christopher Nkunku to cause havoc in the Hertha defense.
Nkunku was outstanding with two goals and two assists, while Poulsen, Nordi Mukiele, Emil Forsberg and Amadou Haidara also got on the scoresheet.
Union Berlin are unbeaten in their last 20 home league games after a 1-0 win against Bielefeld in the capital.
Substitute striker Kevin Behrens came off the bench to claim his first Bundesliga goal in only his fourth game for Union.
However, the win was overshadowed by injury to Union defender Timo Baumgartl, who was knocked out during a first-half collision and taken to hospital, where it was confirmed he suffered concussion.
“Timo Baumgartl is doing well. Under the circumstances, that’s the most pleasing news,” said Union coach Urs Fischer.