SAPPORO — Jerry Colangelo, managing director of the 2006-08 USA Basketball senior national team and the chairman of the Phoenix Suns, was the key person in bringing superstars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony onto Team USA for the FIBA World Championship 2006.
The Japan Times caught up with him this week at Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center.
Japan Times: You have been in Japan before. What is your impression of the Japanese basketball fans?
Colangelo: I enjoy Japan. There are great fans in terms of the interest, and I think it is growing considerably. Hopefully in the medal rounds (at Saitama Super Arena) we are going to have big crowds and a lot of excitement.
JT: This World Championship is not being televised nationally except for a few Japanese games. Are you disappointed about that?
C: I’m a little disappointed about that. I brought the Phoenix Suns here in 1994 to play the first regular-season game (against the Utah Jazz) on foreign soil. I think at that time there was a big interest, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t developed much. We all want to see that happen again.
There is no reason this tournament can’t generate more interest. We received a big-time welcome in China (earlier this month). They are televising a lot of basketball games. That’s the key — more exposure, more television. I think more interest can be generated.
JT: What is your take on the internationalization of the sport?
C: This is the No. 2 sport in the world behind soccer. I think we’ve done a great job in promoting our product. The interest is growing all the time around the world. I’m glad to see it happen.
JT: But aren’t you concerned that it could end up reducing the playing opportunities for Americans?
C: No, I’m not concerned about anything other than getting the best players we can. Basketball is an international game, no question about it.
JT: What does the FIBA World Championship mean to the sport of basketball?
C: The world championship is a challenging event to get support for, no matter where it is, because not many people put as much emphasis on it as on the Olympics.
When I took over the men’s program, I made it clear that we would treat the World Championship with as much importance as the Olympics. I thought it was important to respect the basketball in the rest of the world.
JT: How did you persuade players like Wade, LeBron and Anthony to play on the team?
C: I met them and talked with them. Then I shared my passion and vision. I got a great response from them.
JT: Are the players for this tournament going to play in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing as well?
C: We have 24 national team players, and there are only 12 here. We expect most of the players here will go forward with us, but we will discuss that later. Right now we have to focus on the next week and a half.
JT: How do you like the performance of the USA team so far?
C: We have been together for such a short period of time, but we are making progress as a team. If we keep the game uptempo and put pressure on defensively, using the bench, I think we will have a great chance to be successful. That’s our trademark.
JT: How is the Team USA of this tournament different from previous incarnations?
C: This is a whole bunch of different players with different attitudes. We have a good group chemistry. And we brought role players like (Shane) Battier, (Brad) Miller and (Chris) Bosh this time, not just a group of All-Stars. That’s the biggest change.