Chris Sheridan of ESPN wrote:
On its bus ride after arriving here at the ferry terminal, Team USA zoomed past the Wynn Resort, an exact replica of the place the team stayed at in Las Vegas.
It also passed a massive new MGM Grand, still under construction, before pulling into the entrance foyer of the Venetian, which has a Michelangelo fresco painted on the ceiling just like the Venetian back in Vegas.
Culture shock? Nah, not here in South Asia. Not yet, anyway.
About the only shock the team has probably experienced thus far is sticker shock at the food court, where the price of a Triple Fatburger is listed at $80, and where the nearby Starbucks is getting $30 for a venti-sized coffee.
Those prices, however, are in the local currency -- the pataca -- which trades at a rate of roughly 7:1 against the U.S. dollar. So we're talking about an $11 burger and a $4 cup of joe.
Each hotel room has a mini-bar stocked with Snickers bars, Sprite and Pringles, and the staff members are more likely to speak English than Portuguese, which was the language of the land for 442 years until 1999 when this former colony of Portugal was handed back to China. Since then, it has been transformed into the gambling mecca of Southeast Asia, a place where the 1.3 billion people living up in the Chinese mainland can get away for a few days of legally sanctioned, Vegas-style debauchery.
"How big this hotel is, this place is huge -- ridiculously big, and it takes some getting used to," Chris Bosh said Wednesday as Team USA continued to shake off its jet lag and prepare for its second pre-Olympic exhibition game, Thursday against Turkey at 8 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com). "Trying to walk around and tour the whole thing is impossible."
Like many of the U.S. players, Bosh had not yet been off the grounds of the mega-resort, which includes a 15,000-seat arena where the team has been working out. The Americans will play Lithuania on that court Friday night before flying to the Chinese mainland and setting up temporary shop in Shanghai, where they'll play Russia and Australia before moving on to Beijing.
Any U.S. players with rooms facing south toward the airport can gaze a half-mile out their windows and count a total of 13 cranes being used to construct another five high-rise gambling establishments. Dozens more cranes are visible on the 3-mile drive to the ferry terminal where thousands of people shuttle across the sea every day between here and Hong Kong. (For those unwilling to endure the 65-minute ferry ride, another option is to take an elevator to the roof of the ferry terminal, where helicopters to Hong Kong are available.)
But to leave the grounds of this resort would mean having to endure the stifling heat, humidity and pollution (the pollution index in Hong Kong on Monday was the highest ever recorded, and the combination of haze, fog and mist has kept the Americans from seeing sunshine since they left the U.S. on Saturday). The players from Team USA have kept themselves amused by wandering the upscale shops and vast concourses during the free time outside of practice.
"It's the biggest place I've ever been in," said Dwyane Wade, who has been misidentified by many of the gawkers who do not recognize him with his newly shaved head. "It's got all the dream stores you ever wanted to go into, and we haven't been able to hit 'em all."
Those venturing to the gambling tables have learned that the local currency is no good in the casino, which accepts only Hong Kong dollars -- nearly identical in value to the pataca.
The currency du jour will become the yuan once the team gets to Shanghai and Beijing, but first comes the more important business of Team USA measuring itself against Turkey (which is not going to the Olympics) and Lithuania (which is) -- a pair of teams with enough size and/or experience to provide the Americans with their first true measure of whether their advantages in speed and athleticism will be enough to overcome a lack of height that each of their quality opponents will try to exploit.
"We're working on situational stuff, defending a lot of the sets we're going to face, and putting in a little more of our half-court offense stuff," said coach Mike Krzyzewski, who said the most striking thing he's experienced since arriving is the cleanliness of Hong Kong and the friendliness of the people in Macau. "We're usually running, but there's going to be a certain percentage of time where you have to walk it up, so we're doing a lot of situational scrimmaging.
"Our guys want to play games, but they know they still have to prepare. The preparation stuff we're doing right now is preparation that we never had an opportunity to do [in 2006 and 2007], and they know we still need to put in more work."
But the amount of time devoted to organized side activities is quite a bit less than what Team USA went through two years ago, when it played exhibition games in Guongzhou and Seoul before traveling to Sapporo, Japan, and then to Tokyo for a third-place finish in the World Championship.
There was an opportunity to play exhibitions in Taiwan this summer, too, but team director Jerry Colangelo is aiming to keep the team's calendar a little less cluttered.
"Too many stops, too much packing and unpacking; we made a lot of visits to military bases and so forth," Colangelo told ESPN.com. "It was taxing, in retrospect, but I don't think it had a lot to do with the loss to Greece because they played well in all games other than that one. But personally I learned some things, and it can be just too much.
"Moving a group of people, a team and all of its equipment, is taxing. We have 45 people, and when we go to Shanghai [and are joined by the U.S. women's team], we go up to about 120."
The Americans arrived in Asia at sunrise Monday, and were in their rooms at the Venetian early that afternoon, so they'll have had more than 72 hours to recover from jet lag by the time tipoff arrives against Turkey.
The game against Lithuania happens 24 hours later, and then it's off to Shanghai (and goodbye to Vegas II) for two more chances (against Russia and Australia) to get a reading on whether this version of Team USA is truly shaping up to be a second Dream Team -- or whether its lack of size and lack of experience in playing quality opponents is going to be a hindrance over the final 23 days of this trip.
But there also won't be any more Fatburger opportunities along the way, which is probably a good thing. The less the players feel like they're in America, the more they'll realize they're part of a global sport in which the world has caught up.
After all, it wasn't all that long ago that there was only one Vegas and only one global basketball powerhouse. That, needless to say, has not been the case since the turn of the century -- back when Fatburgers in Macau and eight-year gold medal droughts in the U.S. were equally unfathomable.