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Friday, Aug. 22, 2008

OLYMPIC NOTEBOOK

Team USA hoping for golden birthday treat


Staff writer

BEIJING — Kobe Bryant turns 30 on Saturday. U.S. basketball teammate Michael Redd celebrates his 29th birthday on Sunday.

We already know they share a common birthday wish: to walk off Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium's court with gold medals around their necks on Sunday.

But first things first. The heavily favored U.S. squad rolled past Australia 116-85 in the quarterfinals on Wednesday night.

"I know, I know," said Redd in a Wednesday news conference. "We're keeping that hush right now. We want to get past Australia and focus on them, but obviously, I know my birthday could potentially be on the gold medal game (day)."

Redd collects a paycheck playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. He is best known for his stellar perimeter shooting, but in the Olympics he's converted 3-point shots at just a 25 percent clip.

Redd has averaged 20.5 points per game in his eight-year career, but finds himself as one of the "second tier" stars on the "Redeem Team."

He did not make a big offensive contribution in Team USA's 106-57 victory over Germany on Monday. He shot 1-for-9 from the field.

Planning for the future: NBA commissioner David Stern, who arrived in Beijing on Monday, is always looking ahead, plotting the league's next move and looking for ways to expand its business clout overseas.

China has become a lucrative market for the NBA in terms of merchandising and TV. Stern has expressed his desire to partner with a Chinese league in the future.

"The world is embracing the sport that the Dream Teamers brought to Barcelona," Stern said. "And I would say the 2008 Olympics really demonstrate that complete embrace."

Stern wants the NBA to make a major impact in the development of the sport here, beginning at the grassroots level. For example, he told reporters NBA China is holding talks with Chinese government officials about the possibility of placing 800,000 hoops in villages across the country.

So much has changed in China's sporting landscape since 1985, when the NBA established formal ties with China. The game's popularity here is bigger than his wildest imagination.

"You know, I didn't even dare to think about that," Stern said. "The question was one step at a time. If you've been along on the journey, sometimes you don't realize how far you've come."

Stern is plotting his next move. Basketball Without Borders held its first activities in India this summer.

"We think that's a very promising market," Stern said of India.

Revealing one's true character: After a win, players boast about their athletic ability, their teammates' skills or how Lady Luck was on their side. After a loss, a select few will offer insightful remarks to the media.

China infielder Jia Delong, however, was not at a loss for words following his team's 17-1 loss to Cuba on Wednesday at Wukesong Baseball Field. He spoke about the giant steps China has already taken for the sport's future success here.

"The public will start to pay attention to baseball after the Olympics," Jia said. "It will improve in the future and attract more attention. We chose this career and we will carry on."

Bu Tao, China's starting pitcher in the elimination loss, chalked up the 2008 Beijing Games as a great learning experience.

"I'm very happy that I had a chance to take part in the Olympics and the excitement cannot be described in words," Bu said. "I've learned a lot from all the matches, especially in the attitude you need to play with.

"I also learned a lot of skills from different opponents so that I can adjust my own game."

Time for a change: Table tennis has been called China's national pastime. For most of the world, however, it's a participatory sport first and foremost. The International Table Tennis Federation, of course, wants to increase the number of spectators that attend matches.

So it should come as no surprise that ITTF leaders want to give the sport more sex appeal, using women's tennis as the prime example, the China Daily reported.

"We are trying to push the players to use skirts and also nicer shirts, not the shirts that are made for men, but ones with more curves," ITF vice president Claude Bergeret told reporters.

Did you know?: Liu Xiang is still featured prominently in Nike ads here in Beijing. Despite his withdrawal from the men's 110-meter hurdles competition on Monday due to an Achilles tendon injury, Nike is maintaining its strong marketing campaign featuring the Chinese megastar.

One full-page newspaper advertisement featured the new slogan: "Love Sport Even When It Breaks Your Heart."

Doping update: There were 4,133 doping tests (3,922 urine and 841 blood tests) between July 27 and Tuesday, the IOC revealed in a news release on Wednesday. This includes tests for EPO and Human Growth Hormone.

The IOC conducted 3,500 tests during the 2004 Athens Olympics. The target is 4,500 tests in Beijing.

Quotes of the day: "We're going 40 miles an hour (64 kph) over jumps. It can't get more rad than this," American BMX rider Donny Robinson said, summing up the feeling of competing in the Olympic debut.

"I can't wait to get to the medal stand tomorrow. Oh, that reminds me. I've got some laundry to do so I have something clean to wear on the media stand," said New Zealand middle-distance runner Nicholas Willis after earning the bronze medal in the men's 1,500-meter race.

"This game showed that we don't have anyone to match up with Pau (Gasol). Our centers weren't communicating. Gasol is a world-class player," Croatia guard Zoran Planinic said of Spain's NBA standout after his team's 72-59 loss in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.



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