There’s a big difference between the U.S. men’s basketball team’s losses to Nigeria and Australia and what happened on Wednesday night, as the American women, who are even bigger favorites for Olympic gold than the men, dropped a 93-85 decision to the Team WNBA in the All-Star Game in Las Vegas.
As much as the men’s losses can be put aside as learning experiences that can be built on as tuneups, it’s clear that the gap between the United States and the rest of the world is continuing to narrow, as has been the case ever since Argentina’s stunning run to gold in 2004 — the only time in the last seven Olympics since pros entered that Team USA didn’t win.
The U.S. women are riding a six-Games winning streak, which started in 1996, the year before the WNBA did. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are going to head to Tokyo trying to win fifth golds, each having been part of every U.S. team since 2004. And in the women’s game, what we learned in Las Vegas is that it’s America, and then America’s B team — or in the case of this game, America’s B team, then America.
All-Star MVP Arike Ogunbowale, who scored 26 points to lead Team WNBA, is from Milwaukee. Courtney Williams, who shot 7-of-8 from the floor, is from Folkston, Ga., about 40 miles northwest of Jacksonville. Kahleah Copper? Philadelphia. Brionna Jones? Baltimore. Candace Parker? St. Louis.
In fact, only three players on Team WNBA weren’t Americans: Jonquel Jones, who is from the Bahamas and plays internationally for Bosnia; Liz Cambage, who is Australian and did not play in the All-Star Game; and Satou Sabally, who was born in New York but moved to The Gambia as a toddler, then to Germany, whom she represents internationally in 3-on-3.
Other than Jones’ 18 points and 14 rebounds, Team WNBA was a bunch of Americans who made a strong point about having been overlooked for Olympic consideration. And that doesn’t even include Nneka Ogwunmike, whose exclusion from the American team prompted many observers, but especially Devereaux Peters, to call out USA Basketball for favoring UConn players under the leadership of Geno Auriemma, dating back to Parker getting “the bootiest of the booty minutes” in 2012.
Ogwumike, who has dual citizenship with the U.S. and Nigeria, was denied by FIBA after she petitioned to play for Nigeria, with American consent, ESPN reported on Wednesday. That only serves to further tilt the odds in Team USA’s favor in Tokyo, as one of the best players in the world won’t be there.
The Americans of Team WNBA won’t, either, even though they might be the second best team on the planet. Or, for one night, the best.
The word “Rigged” was trending on Twitter at the end of Game 4 of the NBA Finals, but for whom was it supposed to be rigged? The Bucks did even the series at two games apiece, but the biggest officiating controversy of the night was Devin Booker not being called for his sixth foul, in a game where he scored 42 points.
The referees’ woeful night was a sideshow, because the main event was Giannis Antetokounmpo obliterating an alley-oop attempt by Deandre Ayton off a Booker feed.
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