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Sat August 4, 2012
For Nigeria's Basketball Fans, U.S. Blowout Can't Dampen Spirits
The American men's basketball team has faced criticism for Thursday night's 156-73 blowout victory over Nigeria at the London Olympics. At the arena, NPR editor Vickie Walton-James spoke to Nigerian fans, to learn what they thought about being on the wrong end of a record score:
The vaunted USA Dream Team scored more points Thursday than any other team in an Olympic basketball game. The previous record was set in 1988, when Brazil scored 138 points to Egypt's 85.
Full disclosure: I got to the game at half-time, once I was off deadline. I'm not a sports writer, just an editor who loves basketball.
As I headed into the arena, dozens of fans were on their way out, certain there would be no Nigerian comeback. But the rest of the crowd seemed content just to watch the star power on the floor.
This romp resembled an All-Star game. Team USA scored with abandon.
Carmelo Anthony led the juggernaut with 37 points, launching one three-pointer after the next. Having done their jobs, stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were comfortably seated on the bench in the third quarter.
The two joked and cheered for their teammates, as entertained by the spectacle as the rest of us. The Nigerian speedbump allowed them to save their energy for the challenges ahead, like Argentina on Monday and, perhaps, a powerhouse Spanish team in the gold medal game.
With 4:37 left, Philadelphia 76ers swingman Andre Iguodala hit a 3-pointer, giving the U.S. its new Olympic scoring record. If Nigerians were looking for something to cheer about, that might have been it; Iguodala's father is Nigerian.
Actually, considering the beatdown administered to their Olympic team, the Nigerians were surprisingly upbeat. When the master of ceremonies asked Nigeria's fans to "make some noise" with 3:08 left, they cheered as if it were a two-point game.
As the action ended, Ifeoluwa Akande, a 20-year-old from Manchester, stood proudly waving his Nigerian flag. I asked: How did it feel to see his team beaten by 83 points?
"The USA made the record in our own game!" he said.
Try again, Ifeoluwa.
"It was a bad day for us playing the USA. The USA was on point. On another day we could have smashed them."
Smashed the Dream Team?
"Not USA, but another team. We could've smashed another team."
Ifeoluwa finally said he was just glad that his team made it to the Olympics, and enjoyed seeing them play. He had no real expectation of victory. As it turns out, that's a good thing.
Saturday, the American men play Lithuania.