When the United States and Czech Republic men’s basketball teams first face off during the Tokyo Olympics on July 31, the stakes will be higher than two points in the tournament’s Group Phase.
Bragging rights between two Chicago Bulls teammates will be on the line as well.
During this summer’s Games, Zach LaVine and Tomáš Satoranský will each suit up for their respective home countries, making for interesting viewing for Bulls fans, especially given the United States and Czech Republic both landed in Group A for the Preliminary Round along with Iran and France.
Speaking to reporters over Zoom from Team USA’s Las Vegas training camp, LaVine projected a lighthearted level of urgency to not only win the teams' first matchup, but to do so handily.
“I'm looking forward to playing them and having some bragging rights,” LaVine said. “Hopefully we really kick their butt.”
Satoranský and Co. aren’t to be taken lightly, though. The Czech Republic forged an improbable run through their qualifying tournament in Victoria, B.C. in early July, toppling Canada (on a last-second jumper in overtime buried by Satoranský) and Greece to secure the country’s first ever Olympic berth.
According to LaVine, their celebration befitted the occasion.
“Sato hit me up after the game, (he) was extremely happy. He tried to FaceTime me at like 2 a.m., they were up having a ball in their locker room,” he said, before adding with a laugh: “(I) didn't understand anything he was saying, but it seemed like he was really happy.”
Satoranský averaged 16 points, 5.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds in the Czech Republic’s four-game run, taking home MVP honors for the tournament. After a stellar showing with the team during the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, he’s developed the reputation of a big performer on the world’s grandest stage.
“I'm very happy for him," LaVine said. "When he puts that uniform on, he's their go-to guy. He's their leader."
Soon, Team USA will hope to quell the Czechs’ magical run — and vice versa. Bulls fans won’t want to miss it.