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07/10/2017
Steve Goldberg's Wheel World

And they shall beat their swords into basketball rims

And they shall beat their swords into basketball rims
#44 Barack Obama and #5 Prince Harry pose for a pre-game photo with the USA Wheelchair Basketball Team at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Canada. USA player Anthony Pone (top right) says the pair energized the room before the gold medal final against the Netherlands. Photo courtesy of the Invictus Games Foundation (Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE (Steve Goldberg's Wheel World) - 44 is a classic basketball number. Legends including Jerry West wore it as did George Gervin and Pistol Pete Maravich. Bojan Bogdanovic and Nikola Mirotic wear it now on their NBA teams.

Number 5 also has great tradition. Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Robert "Big Game Bob" Horry wore it for five of his seven NBA title seasons. Nic Batum wears it for Charlotte and France as does J.J. Barea for Dallas and Puerto Rico.

44 and 5 were recently on hand for the USA-France wheelchair basketball confrontation at the third edition of the Invictus Games which concluded in Toronto last weekend. Only this time, those numbers represented Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States and Prince Henry of Wales, currently 5th in line for the British crown.

(Note: With his older brother, Prince William, expecting another child, Prince Henry will go to number 6 next spring, but that pairs him with the likes of Julius Erving, Bill Russell and Kristaps Porzingis.)

The passion of Obama for the game of basketball is well documented. Springtime in the White House during his administration wasn't complete without a full bracket prediction of the NCAA tournament. Pickup games were a campaign trail and White House staple and his first personal assistant, Reggie Love, had Duke basketball and the 2001 NCAA Championship on his resume. Even his golf outings were official NBA size and weight with stars like Stephen Curry, Ray Allen and Alonzo Mourning.

With more time on his hands now, the former leader of the free world took some of that to Toronto last week to hang with Prince Harry, creator of the Invictus Games for injured military personnel from around the world, at the opening round wheelchair basketball game between the USA and France. Joining them courtside were his former vice president Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.

The Invictus Games are a multisport event including athletics, swimming, and wheelchair rugby among other competitions. For wheelchair basketball, it's a story come full circle.

While many of the injuries that qualified athletes for these games were incurred off duty or in general training, with armed conflict comes a greater potential pool of players for the game that essentially was born out of rehabilitation exercises after the second World War.

Once they started playing though, exercise quickly became competition. Though confrontational, basketball is a much better way for countries to lock horns though and the game was included at the 1956 International Stoke-Mandeville Games and four years later at the first Paralympic Games in Rome.

Competing in Toronto last week were teams from Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and United States. The level of play has a wide range as the teams mix elite athletes with those still evolving. Many of the participants compete in multiple sports. The established athletes are essentially player/coach/role models for those still developing.

Jack Pastora of the Netherlands is the center of attention for the USA defense in the gold medal match of the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Steve Parr-Getty Images, courtesy of the Invictus Games Foundation)

In pool play, the USA handled the Netherlands comfortably 35-19. It was a different story altogether in the final where the game went down to the wire before the Americans prevailed 55-51. The

"The gold medal match was one of the best games I've ever played in in my life," said the USA's Anthony Pone. "Just a fight; a back and forth game."

These were by far the two best teams and they featured more experienced players. Both Marc van de Kuilen and Walter Groen had represented the Netherlands at the Rio Paralympic Games last year.

Defend USA. Play good basketball. Barack Obama to the U.S. team before the game against France

For the Americans, Pone played collegiately at the University of Texas-Arlington and was a key player on the Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks 2013 NWBA championship team and currently plays professionally in France for Cs Meaux Basket Fauteuil. Anthony McDaniel, Matthew Grashen, and Hector Varela have all played for the San Diego-based NMCSD Wolfpack who have been a top contender in NWBA competition.

Matt Grashen of the USA works his way to the basket against the Netherlands in the gold medal match at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Steve Parr-Getty Images, courtesy of the Invictus Games Foundation)

McDaniel led the USA with 17 in the final with Pone and Grashen adding 16 apiece.  Top scorer was van de Kuilen with 32 points (including five 3 pointers) with Groen adding 12 for the Dutch.

Pone told me by phone that he was excited at his first chance to play with McDaniel, who he had come up against three times in the Warrior Games, a U.S. event that pits the different branches of the armed services against each other. Pone was in the Army while McDaniel was in the Marine Corps.

"When he's on the court, he demands so much attention. He's everything the game needed. We were in a tough fight with those guys."

In the semifinals, Grashen led the USA with 24 points in a 42-17 win over Denmark while the Netherlands' van de Kuilen led his team with 18 in a 34-16 victory over the U.K.

The U.K. took third place 25-14 over the Danes.

Photos and video are clear that the Prince, the President, and the Vice President were all quite engaged in watching the game against France play out.

Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, Barack Obama, and Prince Harry take in the France-USA wheelchair basketball game at the 2017 Invictus Games. (photo by Chris Jackson-Getty Images, courtesy of the Invictus Games Foundation)

Pone shared that fellow Pennsylvania native Biden told him to "represent Philadelphia" before the game and, evidently still feeling the adrenalin rush of his boys beating the French, the former U.S. number two came up and said, "That was a great (adjective) game! You've got balls of steel."

In a perfect world, all our confrontations should be fought on basketball courts and other fields of sport.

If I can paraphrase, … and they shall beat their swords into basketball rims and neither shall they learn war anymore.

Steve Goldberg

FIBA

FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.

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Steve Goldberg

Steve Goldberg

Eight years after first getting a glimpse of wheelchair basketball at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul when covering the Olympics for UPI, Steve Goldberg got the chance to really understand the game as Chief Press Officer for the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta. He's been a follower of the sport ever since. Over the years, the North Carolina-born and bred Tar Heel fan - but University of Georgia grad - has written on business, the economy, sports, and people for media including Time, USA Today, New York magazine, Reuters, Universal Sports, TNT, ESPN, New York Daily News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Olympian. Steve Goldberg's Wheel World will look at the past, present and future of wheelchair basketball.