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Last Updated: Friday, 11 April, 2003, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
NBA split over war

By John Amaechi
Utah Jazz forward/centre

"If we're lucky, the war won't start until half-time."

These were the words of a Phoenix Suns official as my team piled off the bus into the America West Arena on 19 March.

Our staff nodded in earnest, as if acknowledging the importance of the war and our game in one gesture.

"That way we can stop for the US President's announcement without interrupting the game."

We had been informed earlier in the day of the various scenarios and their effect on our game with the Suns.

As it happened, the announcement of the war did occur at half-time.

Dallas guard Steve Nash
Nash's anti-war comments were not warmly received

The super-screen in the middle of the arena carried the feed for the fans and the TVs in the locker room were tuned in for the teams.

The press conference was short and vague, being in the initial stage of war, but its effect on the team, the arena and the country was immediate and dramatic.

After the briefing my ears rang with the sound of my team-mates chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A".

We ran through the tunnel to the court to the sound of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" followed by "Proud to be an American".

The NBA has been split along lines of nationality for opinions on the war.

Most European and Canadian players have spoken out as to the need to remove Saddam Hussein, but perhaps not through this war effort.

Dallas guard Steve Nash was recently criticised for his anti-war stance.

Some of his peers even suggested that those who did not agree with the USA's handling of the situation should go back home and stop taking "American money".

The European-American divide is certainly evident even within the sports world.

The reality of death on both sides seems to be a little lost in the cheering right now

I wish for the success and survival of all the coalition troops in Iraq and am deeply saddened by the losses already including Iraqi civilians.

But coverage in the US has become almost cartoon-ish on certain stations.

Some people view the conflict as if it were a basketball game - the US sending over an unbeatable dream team to crush an unsuspecting opponent.

The reality of death on both sides seems to be a little lost in the cheering.

The fact that no dream team in history has had such an inhospitable arena to "play" in and that in the course of this "game" the opposing team will be blown to bits has not yet dawned on some.

To further the analogy, it is highly likely that at the end of this conflict the dream team will have lost a few key players too and quite a few of the fans in the stands will have been laid to waste as well.

One of my friends, who is French, attended a recent game and actually had to move because of verbal abuse by some of the crowd.

He admitted the offending parties had probably had too much to drink, but it is scary to even think that allies can become estranged so easily.

Even when the first casualties, mostly British, were reported from the first US helicopter crash, the unreal perception of the war was evident.

I was called over in the locker room by one of my team-mates who asked me: "Did you see about the crash? Yeah, some troops died, but it's okay though, they weren't shot down in combat... it was an accident."

I only hope that the words of consolation coming to the families of these military personnel are a little more reassuring.

For the unity of Europe, the welfare of the Iraqi people and the troops in combat in the Gulf, I am hoping for a swift and painless resolution to this conflict.





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