I started these words before the USA-Serbia men’s basketball game. And I refuse to watch any of it. I am right now (after the game) watching Miracle. (By the way the job interview scene to start out Miracle is required for all job seekers – the Herb Brooks character was poised, confident, knew his stuff and could back it up with experience.) We were the good guys in Miracle but we are not in this Olympic basketball thing. We’re the Soviets instead.
It’s a disgrace and an embarrassment how the basketball program at the Olympics has been run since 1994. It’s a rigged game so the USA can win gold and only the USA can win. No other team has a realistic chance to win gold and no other team can garner the resources to do so. Pro NBA athletes get selected in what amounts to a smoke-filled room (the only reason there might not literally be smoke in the room is the new laws that prohibit smoke indoors!) and we had the same coach how many times (Coach K is a great coach and I respect and admire him very much but how many gold medals does he get?) and Carmelo Anthony won his third gold medal. How many African basketball players win Olympic gold? None unless they defect to USA and play in the NBA. That’s why I say you need more than USA on your jersey to represent the USA. You have to represent our values and the basketball thing does not represent our values.
It is not realistic for any nation to have 12 NBA players on the Olympic basketball team. Or 12 WNBA players. The bar is set too high for all the teams to have a realistic chance to compete for gold.
The women’s situation (they won the gold medal Saturday by a astonishing 29 points over Spain) is worse. The USA women’s team has won 49 straight games and in 48 of those games the final score was more than ten points.
The men’s scores (except for the most recent scores – they beat Serbia by 30 points today) were a bit closer.
But it is not just the scores – a good friend who loves sports as much or not more than I do – let’s just tell the truth – he DOES love sports more than I do! and let’s call him a plain name like say Mark – brings up the old amateur days and he argues that the pro situation is not the problem as per the scores because there were some awful scores before 1994.
And Mark’s right: Here they are from Wikipedia. In 1948 we beat Switzerland by 65 points! (86-21 was the score) In 1956, the differential averaged 53.5 points!
BUT the bar was the same – every team could have 12 amateurs to play and it was unlikely but possible that a team could have 12 (or at least a majority) playing college ball in the US. Herb Brooks’ team DID win gold in hockey in 1980.
Today, the bar is so high – 12 NBA players – what other nation has the resources to do that? Maybe one or two other nations. That is why I call pros in the Games sports imperialism. Dominated by the major powers. (That is one reason I did the first medal and first gold medal series and another is to help us be more grateful for what we do most Olympics!)
And we have to remember two things: these are nations – national teams – we are playing against. It is not Golden State v. the Celtics. it is not even Duke or Kentucky versus Poduck U. It is the United States of America v. Angola or Tunisia or Nigeria (remember that score – 156-73!).
The second thing is that this is the Olympics. The Olympics has an almost mystical effect on the American people. Why? They don’t do major movies about the so-called Dream Team but they did do one on the 1980 USA hockey team. name your favorite Olympic athlete: Mary Lou Retton. Michael Phelps. Mark Spitz. The local guy or gal down the street who brings home a medal for USA – or even if they only got to play in the Games. The thrill of a lifetime. Medal or no. Your favorite Olympian is not likely to be a pro athlete.
“…a few years later, the US began using professional athletes at the Games: Dream Teams. I always found that term ironic because now that we have Dream Teams, we seldom ever get to dream.”
Few young men or women in the US can dream to even represent their nation in basketball. Few in other nations can dream to do what we did in 1980. I think we are determined to make sure the shame of 1972 can never happen again. (There is a solution to the shame of 1972 – the President can retrieve those medals and give them to the team with the thanks and honor of the American people!) But the solution to 1972 is not to crush the dreams of both American kids and the other nations in the world. The solution to 1972 is not to do to the other nations what they did not do to us. It is demeaning and disrespectful to other nations to rig the competition so they cannot realistically win gold and they are more likely to be embarrassed than do well. The solution to 1972 is to make the Games right for every nation.
In 2016 USA won the most medals. And the most gold. And the overall medal tally is overwhelming in our favor – although the doping and semi-pro communist teams did win more medals than us during the 1952-1988 era – but we won over a thousand gold medals by some counts since 1896.
I propose three possible solutions (in order of preference):
- Have dual Olympic competitions in all sports where there are pros allowed – a pro division and an amateur division
- Have a 23 and under basketball rule similar to soccer for basketball (and hockey, too)
- Have each team in the Games have a maximum of three NBA players (preferably first time Olympians) on each team and in the US free try outs for the other nine spots.
We got to end this outrage. And we would not like it much if we were on the receiving end. We did not like the doping and semi-pro tactics of the eastern bloc nations.
If you agree with me – pick a alternative and let the US Olympic Committee know – here is a contact page. Of course always be nice. And let me know. Maybe we’ll start something. The great thing and one of the things that makes us exceptional as a nation and people is that the American people usually eventually get it right if you are right and make the best argument and agitate long enough. In the words of William Lloyd Garrison: Agitate, Agitate, Agitate! I will not stop agitating until this is fixed.