Remembering Angola

Posted: September 07, 2010

NEWS ITEM: The U.S. national basketball team routs Angola, 121-66, in the field of 16 knockout round of the FIBA World Championships in Turkey.

First thought: It could have been worse.

Second thought: In 1992, in the debut of the Dream Team in Spain, it was. And that 116-48 victory over the Angolans included what could have turned in to an international incident.

I was there, on press row, in the arena in Badalona, a suburb of Barcelona, when - with 7:39 remaining in the first half - Charles Barkley landed an elbow in the sternum of 174-pound forward Herlander Coimbra.

"He hit me [earlier], I hit him," said Barkley, who had completed eight seasons with the 76ers and was preparing for his first season with the Phoenix Suns. "You guys don't understand that. It's a ghetto thing."

Pure Charles.

In the days leading up to the game, Angola coach Victorino Dasilva Cunha said beating the Dream Team was "impossible. I'm not crazy. My goal is to keep [the differential] below 45 points."

It ended up being 68. The U.S. had runs of 31-0 and 46-1, the latter interrupted only by a free throw after Barkley's flagrant foul.

But Cunha insisted he had no problem with Barkley or the errant elbow.

"I know that [he] does the same thing in the NBA," Cunha said. "No problem. We're not angry at this wrong movement."

In fact, the game was viewed as something of a celebration in Angola, where Cunha said roughly 10 million people would watch on TV. It was considered a moment of pride for a country that had been torn apart by a civil war that stretched from 1975 to 1991.

As for Coimbra, he absorbed the "elbow" and took it as a badge of honor, saying, "I thought we'd have lost by 80."

He also said Barkley was "my favorite forward."

"He is a master player," Coimbra said. "If I make violence with him, it's best to get out of the violence. Violence is not sports. The word of these games, if I remember, is 'friends forever.' "

International incident? Not exactly.

"After the game," Coimbra said, "we talked, we took a picture."

- Phil Jasner

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