U.S. Basketball Team Gets Big Beijing Welcome

Mike Krzyzewski could feel anticipation build as the plane carrying the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team neared Beijing.

“I was sitting next to Jerry (Colangelo) and said, ‘You know, we’ve waited three years to get off this plane and do this,” the coach said Wednesday, shortly after the team arrived for the Summer Games. “I think we’re prepared, and while we’re here we need to prepare more.”

With their Olympics opener scheduled for Sunday against the host Chinese, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and the rest of the team arrived amid near pandemonium after fans waited hours for a glimpse of their basketball heroes. Later, the players held a team meeting before deciding to head to the Olympic village to take in the sights.

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“It’s a little overwhelming that it’s really here—the reality that we’re here,” said Colangelo, the managing director of USA Basketball.

Krzyzewski, Duke’s Hall of Fame coach who was appointed to lead the men’s senior national team in 2005, is making his first visit to Beijing. The U.S. team trained in Macao before playing Turkey and Lithuania, then headed to Shanghai to play Russia before closing the exhibition schedule against Australia there Tuesday night.

“We’re honored we’re playing in China,” Krzyzewski said after attending the ceremonial opening of the 24 Hour Fitness-sponsored strength and conditioning facility at the U.S. training center at Beijing Normal University. “We’ve been treated with the greatest amount of respect and friendliness. We could not have been treated better. I know we’ll get the same treatment in Beijing. The Chinese people love basketball and we’re excited we’re playing the first game against China.”

That excitement was on display when the U.S. team arrived at Beijing’s airport earlier Wednesday. Dozens of fans, most wielding cell phones or digital cameras, mounted a spiked iron fence to get a closer look, many shouting “Kou-bi-er”—the local rendering of Bryant’s name—in hopes of getting his attention.

The Los Angeles Lakers guard waved and smiled, looking pleased and vaguely amused by the display. Players left Beijing’s airport by a side door and boarded a bus in a secure VIP area before driving into the city.

“I try to see American players every time they come to China, but this time is the most special because of the Olympics,” said Manny Chen, a spikey-haired college student dressed in a USA jersey with Bryant’s name it.

Krzyzewski said the team is planning a trip to see the Great Wall, and several players have said they want to go to other Olympic events to support U.S. athletes.

His family is scheduled to arrive Thursday, though the coach sounded focused on work. That was especially true after the Americans’ performance in an 87-76 win against Australia, which included 3-for-18 shooting from 3-point range and 20-for-33 (61 percent) from the foul line.

The Americans are trying to win a major world title for the first time since the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The U.S. and China are joined in a tough Group B by Germany, European champion Greece, Angola and world champion Spain.

Krzyzewski said he wants his family in Beijing because this is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and they should experience all those things.”

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