Olympic Games Rumors
On Wednesday morning, the staff of Pacers Sports & Entertainment gathered on the main court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to congratulate Pacers forward Paul George on winning a gold medal with USA Basketball at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. George, the first Pacers player to win an Olympic medal since Reggie Miller in 1996, arrived to thunderous applause from the large crowd of employees. With his gold medal draped around his neck, PG shook hands with Pacers President/COO Rick Fuson.
But what has been forgotten is the number of NBA players who passed on those Athens Games. Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, and Jason Kidd all elected not to play, leaving Iverson on an island. “That was a very touchy situation for me because when everybody didn’t end up going, me and Tim Duncan went,” Iverson said. “We went to represent our country. That’s no shot at the guys that didn’t go. I totally understand why they didn’t. I totally understand and all of them remain my friends. I still have the utmost respect for all of those guys. But me and Tim went.”
When Team USA rebuilt its Olympic squad for Beijing in 2008, Iverson was not invited. “As great as a season as I had, arguably one of the best seasons that I ever had, I wasn’t invited to go, that’s something that I wouldn’t say hurt me to this day, but the acknowledgment is there,” he said. “And the hurt will always exist because I felt that I truly should have been a part of the team. I should obviously be saying that I have a gold medal at 41 years old.”
During a trip to his hometown of Shanghai for a preseason game, Yao was almost giddy as he took a minivan full of friends on a personal tour of his roots in the vast city. The small group, which included then-coach Jeff Van Gundy, strolled through the courtyard of the apartment building where Yao grew up and visited his primary school, where he learned to read and write and took his very first shot attempt at the basket outside in the playground. “Another airball,” cracked wiseguy Van Gundy when Yao tried to re-create the youthful attempt. “Hey, coach,” Yao replied wryly, “have you ever carried your country’s flag in the Olympics?”
“There’s always pressure on me,” Yao said. “That’s my life. I accept it. It is a different burden for me. I can tell you I have two careers. Most players don’t have that experience. You play for the professional league, the NBA, the best league in the world. If you win titles in this league, that would be wonderful. “The Olympics was a national honor, a dream I have when I am young. It was obligation and an expectation that I have. The whole country was focused on the games in Beijing. Basketball is a big game in China.”