Every few years or so, whenever our great country puts together one of its all-NBA-player squads to compete in international basketball competition, I have to take a deep breath and put my patriotism up for debate when I utter these four words:
I hope we lose.
This past week, the United States men’s basketball team was assembled, and some of the biggest names in professional sports will grace the roster: LeBron James. Kobe Bryant. Kevin Durant. Chris Paul. Carmelo Anthony.
I love each one of them as players during the winter, but I swear I hope some guy from Tunisia dunks on each of them while his team blows out the Americans during the Olympic Games in London this summer.
Yes, I’m still that bitter. I’m one of those folks who hates the fact that our country feels we need to flex our basketball muscles by sending the pros – instead of the college kids – to tournaments such as the Olympics and the FIBA World Championships.
For decades, there had been scores of people who wanted to send the NBA players to the Olympics. And in 1988, when the Americans brought home (gasp!) bronze, our country decided we’d had enough. We’d show the world which country truly reigned supreme on the court, so we sent Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley to get our point across.
Of course, by now you know that the Dream Team – the only Dream Team, mind you, even though some folks had the audacity to start dubbing subsequent squads “Dream Team 2” and “Dream Team 3” – went on to romp its way to gold at the 1992 Olympics, winning by an average of 44 points per game.
Alas, I’ve had my shining moments with the NBA players representing our country. At the 2002 World Championships, a U.S. team that admittedly didn’t have Kobe, Shaquille O’Neal or Kevin Garnett, who turned down the “opportunity” to play, finished sixth – sixth!
Two years later, at the Olympics in Athens, Greece, the Americans lost three games, including one by 19 points to Puerto Rico, which was our country’s worst loss in international competition; even the college kids never got bounced like that. And, oh, yeah, Team USA only won bronze that year.
Loved it. Absolutely loved it.
I’ve heard it all before: Other countries have long sent their professionals to international competitions to win gold medals. But I’m not the type of person who cheers against our good, old U.S. of A. in anything else. I’m as American as they come. I cheered passionately for little Mary Lou Retton in ’84 Olympics, and people such as track star Carl Lewis and legendary swimmer Michael Phelps held a special place in my heart when they were leading our country to sports glory.
But the basketball is different.
Call me old-fashioned, but I still think the Olympics are about dreams – dreams for people who haven’t been to the mountaintop in their chosen professions just yet. And for sports such as gymnastics, swimming and track and field, winning Olympic gold is the mountaintop.
It’s not the same for the guys our country sends over to compete in Olympic basketball; those guys are already millionaires, already household names, and we often have to beg them to go play. And, God forbid, if an NBA player decides not to play, we darn near paint him unpatriotic because he won’t give up his vacation to play for our country.
Back when the college kids played in the Olympics, they went through honest-to-goodness tryouts and were crestfallen if they didn’t make the squad.
So once again, I’ll spend this summer cheering against the American men’s basketball team. I’m hoping London brings us a repeat of 2002 and 2004. But I doubt it will happen.
While this year’s squad will have virtually no interior offensive game – Kevin Love is great but isn’t a post-up guy, Tyson Chandler is a shot-blocker with limited moves to the basket, and Blake Griffin is the NBA’s most overrated player because if he ain’t dunking, he ain’t scoring – the perimeter talent is too strong. With Kobe, LeBron and Kevin Durant using their lethal offensive arsenals after receiving deft passes from point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams, few teams are capable of outscoring the U.S.
But a guy can hope and pray that it happens. And I’ll be that guy.
Come on, Australia! Make it happen!