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The British Olympic squad lost the limelight in Macau on Wednesday as the American basketball team were in town!

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, et al tuned up for their assault on Olympic gold with a couple of matches here against Turkey and Lithuania, so down I rushed to the ludicrously massive Venetian Hotel - twice the size of the Vegas version on which it's based and capable of holding a staggering 20,000 people - to join the media scrum.

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Not that the US squad were shunning the cameras and microphones - James, at a towering 6ft 8ins, and, with an annual salary of $40m, the best paid player in the NBA took time out from grooving to the tunes on his headphones to tell us that representing the USA is "10 times better than anything else."

As for his "guarantee" that they'll walk off with the gold, he says the players deserve to feel pressure, after they could only take bronze in Athens: "We believe we are the best team in the world, we have to play like it."

They face the hosts in their opening game on 10 August and it is definitely one for the diary.

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The confidence of the basketball stars contrasted with that of a group of past champions facing a sterner test in their group games - the British men's hockey team.

Since the abiding memory of their stunning Olympic gold at the 1988 games they've failed to improve on sixth place and, 20 years on from Seoul, expectations remain rather modest.

In the group stages in Beijing they'll face Holland, standard-bearers of hockey exellence for many years and defending champions Australia.

British head coach Jason Lee told me, with brutal honesty, Australia are "largely untouchable" while British captain Ben Hawes assured me they've made big strides since a ninth placed finish in Athens, if they don't get anything from the Dutch or the Aussies, a medal will once again prove elusive.

"If we play at the top of our game and if we get lucky," explained Lee, "we could win a medal.

"That will also apply to London 2012. There's nothing to suggest we wouldn't need luck."

Defeatism or harsh realism?

Well first up, the coach thinks the heroics of the class of '88 have become a rather unfortunate hockey stick with which to beat the rest.

"The physical side of the game has changed so much since then" he explains, "I doubt whether some of them could have coped with the pace of the game now."

So, if medal chances are slim or worse for this Games and the next, is the longer term picture just as bleak?

Inevitably, money plays its part. With a rather resigned look the coach informs me that even the nations ranked below the UK get more funding, but he's quick to add that it's not just about cash, it's about developing a sporting culture that will nurture skills at an early age.

"By the time they become adults," says Lee, "the danger is that we can't help them."

Philip Studd is a BBC reporter and commentator based at Team GB's pre-Olympics holding camp in Macau. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


Comments

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  • 1. At 3:31pm on 30 Jul 2008, fair teh middlin wrote:

    It's always interesting to see how the commercial world which the NBA players work in can translate to the professional sports arena.

    The US would be better sending out a team picked form the NCAA.

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  • 2. At 3:48pm on 30 Jul 2008, MGUK82 wrote:

    Except that the last time they did that was for the 1998 World Championships(the NBA players were caught up in a pay dispute at the time) and they didn't come anywhere near winning the trophy! Same thing would happen if they fielded an NCAA team in 2008!

    Most of the basketball teams competing at the Olympics have at least one NBA player in their ranks and the Yanks learned the hard way last time round that they not only do they need the best players available for this tournament but they have to take it seriously if they want to go home with the gold!

    The best players available full stop are in the NBA! Our own basketball team is only just becoming competitive due to rising Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng making himself available last year!

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  • 3. At 4:46pm on 30 Jul 2008, MorningJean wrote:

    LeBron is not paid $40 million a year in salary.

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  • 4. At 5:45pm on 30 Jul 2008, marbellion wrote:

    lebron is paid nothing like $40million, the salary cap is around 60million, and ben wallace and ilgauskas are on over 10million each which means that every other player on the team would have to be on near minimum contracts, which they arent, lebron contract is something like $22million.

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  • 5. At 10:13pm on 30 Jul 2008, MorningJean wrote:

    No, it's like $14 million, he's not been in the league long enough to earn more than that. The figure of $40 million is probably including endorsements.

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  • 6. At 10:37am on 31 Jul 2008, pembs1 wrote:

    I have to admit that a US NCAA team would be uncompetitive and not fall in line with what other nations are putting out there.
    The scurge of the US team in recent years has been Argentina and their NBA star Manu Ginoboli.
    The US Basketball team doesn't fall down on individual talent... just teamwork and that is echoed through other sports i.e. Ryder Cup (Golf),
    I remember having a wry smile to comments made by Tiger Woods that he doesn't enjoy relying on someone else at Ryder Cup

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  • 7. At 12:54pm on 31 Jul 2008, superjase14 wrote:

    Lebron is actually 'only' on just over $13 million a year salary, see below...

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/teams/roster?team=cle

    Kobe actually earns quite a bit more - about $19.5 million a year, which is the same as Jason Kidd and a few others.

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  • 8. At 2:14pm on 31 Jul 2008, bravesophia001 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 9. At 8:49pm on 03 Aug 2008, Nestamania wrote:

    US team can win the gold easily and humble other teams if they take it seriuosly from the first match. They are a quality side and have great players especially Lebron who I regard the best player in the world at the moment. There is also Kobe who could make the diffierence if he was at his best form.

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  • 10. At 10:23am on 04 Aug 2008, notstoopidjuzspecial wrote:

    Firstly, LeBron is paid over USD50million a year. Its called Nike. And gatorade and a whole lump of deals only Woods can match. He is the third richest American sportsperson behind Phil Mickelson and Tiger. Interestingly, Kobe Bryant is fourth, which speaks volumes of the games popularity worldwide.

    Secondly, and unfortunately, the American men AND women are almost certain of gold. The women team have Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi. Those 3 can win the gold on their own. The mens team have played together for 3 years now, with most of the players from the same draft and hence are good friends. Additions of Kidd however late does not hamper them one bit! No team in the Olympics has an inside outside game that can match a Dwight Howard-Kobe-LBJ combination. Fact.

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  • 11. At 7:26pm on 15 Aug 2008, megaGodsend wrote:

    Whoever this "notstoopidjuzspecial" is:

    His or her line stating "Secondly, and unfortunately, the Americans men AND Women are almost certain of Gold."

    Now that IS a stupid , Stooooopid statement.

    We will win the Gold because we are Bloody Good, if you find that "unfortunate," too bad. I don't know which country you hail from (You certainly can't be American) but show a little respect here, alright. If your country can't match up to the US of A, once again, too bad.

    Jealousy will not cut it. If you find that The Americans take home the Gold and YOU don't like it, instead of crying about it, get your own country to improve it's basketball.
    THAT will be FORTUNATE. Ya dig! In your Face! With Love from the U.S.A.

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