Carmelo Anthony
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Ten years later, remembering the lone U.S. loss under Coach K

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Ten years later, Carmelo Anthony still remembers where he stood.

He points to a spot between the 3-point arc and the sideline, recalling the position from where he watched a celebration some teammates couldn’t bear to face.

“Everybody was walking off the floor. There was confetti, things on the court,” Anthony said. “Everybody was celebrating and I stayed, I stayed right there on the court. I just wanted to see it and kind of feel it.”

The Americans haven’t felt it since.

The U.S. had just lost to Greece in the semifinals of the 2006 world basketball championship, a team coached by Mike Krzyzewski and led by likely future Hall of Famers LeBron James, Anthony and Dwyane Wade falling to a team that had no NBA players.

That 101-95 loss in Japan is the only deefeat in 76 games since Krzyzewski took over in 2005.

Whether it was an upset depends on who you ask, but there’s no debating what it meant to a U.S. team that hasn’t looked back.

As the U.S. rolls into Rio and Greece tries to qualify this week , people on both sides remembered the buildup, the game and the aftermath.

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Jerry Colangelo had overhauled USA Basketball after the Americans’ embarrassing performance in the 2004 Olympics, when Anthony was part of a team that managed only a bronze. But it would take a while to get the U.S. program to where it is now.

“From ’04 to ’06, it wasn’t no organizational structure,” Anthony said. “It was just come together, put a team together and just try to go out there and win.”

Colangelo set out to change that by selecting players months in advance, then bringing them to camp and making roster cuts — something the U.S. has stopped doing.

“We really had tryouts,” Chris Paul said. “Like, you think about it, you get to the highest point of your professional career, the NBA, and we had tryouts for the USA team. I remember diving on the floor against Luke Ridnour and stuff like that. So when you think back like that, it puts it all in perspective.”

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James, Anthony and Wade, who had just been MVP of the NBA Finals, were the headliners of the team. Paul had won Rookie of the Year.

The rest of the team was good, but far short of a Dream Team — even though that’s what U.S. teams with NBA players always get called across the globe. Kobe Bryant was the biggest absence after knee surgery on the eve of the Americans’ training camp.

“A lot of people probably couldn’t even name that team if you wanted to,” Paul said. “We had guys like Kirk Hinrich, Elton Brand, Brad Miller.”

The rest of the roster: Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Joe Johnson, Shane Battier and Antawn Jamison.

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The Americans arrived in the semifinals with a 7-0 record but had some struggles along the way. Puerto Rico scored 100 points on them in the opener, and the Americans were down 12 to Italy in the second half before Anthony bailed them out with a then-U.S. record 35 points.

Spain and Argentina, the reigning Olympic champion, were also 7-0 and met in one semifinal. The overlooked team was Greece, which had won all seven games in the worlds after winning the 2005 European championship.

“I think we had a really good group with inside and outside players, and also we had a team who could play smart to get the advantage,” said Panagiotis Yannakis, who coached Greece.

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Realizing the Americans’ advantage in athleticism, Yannakis’ plan was to play three guards who could control the tempo. Theodoros Papaloukas was one of the best in Europe, Vassilis Spanoulis was bound for the Houston Rockets and Dimitris Diamantidis a steady leader.

If they could protect the ball and pound it inside to 6-foot-10 Sofoklis Schortsianitis — nicknamed “Baby Shaq” — the U.S. transition game would be stalled.

“Some of the teams are afraid, but some other teams don’t have the guards to protect the ball,” Yannakis said. “Don’t give them the opportunity to use their hands, because USA players, they use a lot of their hands on the ball. That’s the reason we used three guards. All of them, they had the skills to control the ball.”

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The U.S. led by 12 in the first half, but Greece stormed ahead by making 25-of-33 shots (76 percent) in the second and third quarters. Carving the Americans up on the pick-and-roll, the Greeks got 22 points from Spanoulis, 12 assists from Papaloukas and plenty of help from the U.S., which made 59 percent of its free throws.

Most of the U.S. players quickly retreated to the locker room as the Greeks danced at midcourt.

“I just remember the end of the game,” Anthony said, “and just standing on the court and Greece fans are going crazy, their team is going crazy.”

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Yannakis believed his team could do it — “We had the faith to play with anyone,” he said — but Sacramento Kings center Kosta Koufos, who will play for Greece this week but was then a high schooler in the U.S. who stayed up well past 3 a.m. to watch, was surprised.

“You’ve got to understand Team USA’s dominance through the years and that was definitely an upset for them,” he said.

Colangelo’s take?

“Would I consider it an upset at the time? Oh, for sure I would have. I still do,” he said. “I think we might’ve played that team 10 times and won nine of those 10. But that was back to the old adage that on any given night.”

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Greece couldn’t duplicate its effort in the final, getting blown out by Spain. The Americans beat Argentina for bronze, then went home to build a better team. Jason Kidd and Deron Williams were added to bolster a backcourt that would include Bryant the next year, when they powered through an Olympic qualifier they were forced to play in by not winning the worlds.

The teams would then meet again in Beijing, the Americans cruising to a 92-69 victory. But they would never forget the game two years earlier.

“I mean, the stars were aligned for Greece that night and I chose and still do, as much it pains me, to say out of adversity comes opportunity,” Colangelo said. “And I think we were emboldened by the fact that we paid a price early, that we were potentially vulnerable and I think that helped prepare us for our future success.”

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Iris Cummings, last living 1936 U.S. Olympian, has flown ever since Berlin

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Iris Cummings is one of the last living members of a historically significant, global group: athletes who competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. She is the only U.S. Olympian from those Games believed to still be alive.

Cummings, a 99-year-old who still swims regularly, was one of 46 U.S. women (along with 313 U.S. men) who competed at the Berlin Olympics, best known for Jesse Owens triumphing in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Since swimmer Adolph Kiefer‘s death in May 2017, the breaststroker Cummings and canoeist John Lysak were the last living 1936 U.S. Olympians. Olympic historians recently learned that Lysak died in January at 105 years old (which Lysak’s family confirmed this week). Canadian Paul Tchir of the OlyMADMen keeps a list of the oldest living Olympians here.

Lysak, born in New Jersey, turned 4 years old when his mom died in 1918 due to the flu pandemic. He was orphaned by his father, overwhelmed with taking care of a farm and four children.

Lysak got a bike to handle a paper route as a boy. That allowed him to sneak down to the Hudson River and row with homemade boats with his younger brother, Steven, who became a 1948 Olympic gold and silver medalist.

“I couldn’t swim, but I floated with a log,” Lysak told NBC Sports for the 2016 film “More than Gold,” about Owens and the 1936 Olympics. “I grew up paddling.”

He specialized at the Yonkers Canoe Club, made the Olympic team and finished seventh in a 10km doubles event with James O’Rourke in Berlin. Lysak later became a Marine and served during World War II.

Lysak spent his last years in California, where Cummings learned to swim off the Pacific beaches as a girl around the time of the Great Depression.

Cummings credited an ability to become an Olympian and one of the first women to fly U.S. military aircraft to her parents, who met while serving in France during World War I. Her father was a medic and sports doctor. Her mother a member of the American Red Cross canteen service.

She said her father, an all-around athlete, gave up a chance to try out for the first modern Olympics in 1896 to attend Tufts University School of Medicine.

“My mother provided the intellectual and academic inspiration from her rare perspective as a woman college graduate and a high school language teacher when very few women ever went to college,” Cummings told NBC Sports in an interview for “More than Gold.”

In 1928, Cummings’ dad took her to her the National Air Races at what is now Los Angeles International Airport.

“I watched Charles Lindbergh at the peak of his fame fly in the air show,” she said.

In 1932, at age 11, Cummings was introduced to the Olympics in person. Her dad was a track and field official at those Los Angeles Games.

Iris Cummings
Iris Cummings (center) competed in the 200m breaststroke at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (Courtesy Iris Cummings)

All of Cummings’ swimming up to age 13 came in the ocean due to a lack of pools. But from 1934 to ’36, she developed into an Olympian in the breaststroke. In 1936, a 15-year-old Cummings was offered a paid-for, round-trip, cross-country train ticket to swim at a national championships in Long Island, N.Y.

“My mother had to borrow money to buy her railroad ticket to accompany me,” she said.

In a telegraph after nationals, Cummings was told by a California club coach to stay back East for five weeks before Olympic Trials (also on Long Island) because they had no money to send her back and forth again.

“So my mother figured out how we could stay with my grandmother in Philadelphia with almost no place to swim,” Cummings said. They found a country club pool, where she swam after hours while a janitor cleaned.

Cummings placed third in the 200m breast at trials to make the team as its youngest member in an individual event. (Today, only the top two at trials per individual event make the Olympics.)

“They stated, ‘You have made the team, but we don’t have enough money to send all of you,'” Cummings said. “‘The S.S. Manhattan sails in five days. Get out and raise as much money as you can from your hometown.’ My mother and I telegraphed our local newspaper, and a small amount was sent in from Redondo Beach.”

Olympic team members took a 10-day trip on the ship to Germany. Swimmers had one 20-foot-by-20-foot pool in which to train while at sea.

“They pumped the saltwater into it, and it sloshed around as the ship rolled,” Cummings said in an LA84 Foundation interview.

After arriving in Hamburg, U.S. athletes took a boat train that had swastikas on it out of the port.

“Most of us were quite aware of the evolving difficulties or however you want to classify the rise of Nazism in Germany,” said Cummings, adding that U.S. swim coach Charlotte Epstein previously boycotted attending the Olympics. “We’d heard the same rumors [about a U.S. boycott]. We were all wondering if the Olympic committee was going to take action before the boat sailed. That had come up in most everyone’s minds.”

At the Opening Ceremony, Cummings was bored by speeches and instead said she took pictures of the Hindenburg flying above. She had no fear about being there.

“The concerns were from nations that had proximity to the situation like a Belgium, or Holland or Austria,” she said. “We’ve got this passport, I know Margie [Marjorie Gestring, a gold-medal diver at age 13] and I looked at this and said, we’ve got this special passport. They can’t touch us.”

Most of Owens’ events took place before Cummings was eliminated in the first round of the 200m breast. She nonetheless took advantage of passes for athletes to watch track and field at the Olympic Stadium. She saw all of Owens’ races, sitting in an athlete section about 15 or 20 rows above Hitler’s box.

“Whenever [Hitler] came in, we could see him down there,” she said. “He wasn’t very far away.”

Iris Cummings
(Courtesy Iris Cummings)

Eight decades later, Cummings still remembered the crowd cheering for Owens after his victories.

“The whole stadium was rooting for Jesse,” she said.

Soon after the team returned to the U.S., Cummings began attending the University of Southern California. She enrolled in a pilot training program in 1939, earned her license the next year and worked as a flight instructor during the war. Then she became a pilot for the AAF Ferry Command in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, later included in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs).

“None of us thought there were going to be Olympics in ’40,” she predicted, correctly. Not in 1944, either.

She estimated that she’s flown more than 50 types of airplanes.

“There were only 21 of us [women] who ever flew the P-38,” she said, “and there were only four of us who ever flew the P-61 Black Widow.”

After the war, marriage to Howard Critchell and childbirths, Cummings continued to race planes. She developed curricula for the Federal Aviation Administration, founded an aeronautics program at Harvey Mudd College and was inducted into the National Flight Instructors Hall of Fame, among many honors.

“I’ve been flying 76 years, and it’s a privilege to just be around,” she said shortly before she stopped piloting in 2016.

Cummings still flies as a passenger with a former student.

“It’s a treat to be up there with the elements and appreciate it all,” she said. “It’s you and the air movement and the wind and what you can do with your airplane.”

MORE: Wyomia Tyus’ Olympic protest resonates 52 years later

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NBA participation in Tokyo Olympics could be limited, Adam Silver says

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the Tokyo Olympics’ effect on the league’s schedule planning for 2021 is unclear, but that it’s possible that Olympic participation may be limited.

“There are a lot of great U.S. players, and we may be up against a scenario where the top 15 NBA players aren’t competing in the Olympics, but other great American players are competing,” Silver told Bob Costas on CNN on Tuesday. “Obviously, there are many NBA players who participate in the Olympics from other countries. That’s something we’re going to have to work through. I just say, lastly, these are highly unique and unusual circumstances. I think, just as it is for the Olympic movement, it is for us as well. We’re just going to have to sort of find a way to meld and mesh those two competing considerations.”

Silver said his best guess is that the next NBA season starts in January with a goal of a standard 82-game schedule and playoffs. A schedule has not been released.

In normal NBA seasons that start in late October, the regular season runs to mid-April and the NBA Finals into mid-June.

The Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremony is July 23. If an NBA season is pushed back two or three months to a January start, and the schedule is not condensed, the Olympics would start while the NBA playoffs are happening.

The current NBA season is in the conference finals phase in an Orlando-area bubble after a four-month stoppage due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is a factor in our planning,” Silver said of the Olympics. “It would be tough for us to make a decision in January based on the Olympics happening on schedule when that’s so unclear.”

The NBA has participated in every Olympics since the 1992 Barcelona Games. Monday was the 29th anniversary of the announcement of the first 10 members of the original Dream Team on an NBC selection show (hosted by Costas).

Before the NBA era, U.S. Olympic men’s basketball teams consisted of college players.

MORE: When Michael Jordan lost in wheelchair basketball to Paralympian

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