Like Las Vegas, San Juan in August is not the tourist destination it is in winter. Temperatures soar and unlike Vegas, it isn't a dry heat. It was the setting for America's last gold medal in international competition before 2007's triumph. Needing to secure a berth in the 2004 Olympics after the disastrous finish in 2002 Worlds, USA Basketball assembled an all-Star team of NBA players and one college player that August four years ago.
The team could not have been more impressive. Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal, Mike Bibby, Elton Brand, Nick Collison and four players Nets fans are very familiar with: Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson from the 2003 NBA finalists and a future Net, Vince Carter. [The team trainer was the Nets' Tim Walsh.]
Team USA swept through the Tournament, winning nine straight before the gold medal game, where it faced Argentina, whose team featured the same faces that later won the gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and finished fourth at the 2006 Worlds in Tokyo: Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Luis Scola, Fabricio Oberto and Pepe Sanchez.
And like a September night in 2007, there was no doubt on that August night in 2003 who was the better team: the US won, 106-73. Kidd scored only 5 points, but passed out six assists in 12 minutes while Martin and Jefferson had two each off the bench. Carter wound up with 12, as Duncan totally dominated the paint, going for 23 and 14 against Oberto, who is now his backup with the Spurs.
It was the same scenario as Las Vegas...a disappointment the year before leads USA Basketball to recruit Kidd who helps a young team get its legs and rescues the reputation of the NBA in international competition. There is a lesson here...Kidd wins.
Now the Nets point guard is back on the world stage after working another rescue mission for USA Basketball, his teammates and coaches singing his praises...basketball pundits suggesting his addition--and that of Kobe Bryant--save the day for the Americas. It shouldn't come as a surprise. Other than an international high school all-star tournament, Kidd has never lost wearing the red, white, and blue, racking up a 38-0 record...along with an Olympic gold medal in 2000 in Sydney and Americas Cup golds in 1999, 2003 and 2007. (He shares perfection with Carter, who is 18-0 and has an Olympic gold medal from Sydney and the gold from the 2003 Americas Cup.)
Kidd had to pass on the 2002 Worlds and the 2004 Olympics because of injuries. He passed on an invitation to the 2006 Worlds, although he considered it for a time. Now, he is focused on the 2008 Olympics, which could be his last hurrah on the international stage. Not a bad way to go out.