Wednesday, August 04, 2004

A gold-medal decision

Olympic basketball is characterized by who isn't on the U.S. team rather than who is making the trip to Athens and that is a shameful situation. It will get even worse now that Italy, surprisingly not coached by Bora Milutinovic, embarrassed the U.S. team, 95-78, in an Olympic tuneup.

Anyone read a story lately that says Athens is fully prepared for this monstrous event? Or maybe just a few sentences somewhere that tells us security will not be a problem and every athlete, regardless of home country, is guaranteed to return home in the same manner with which they left?

Kevin Garnett didn't want to go. Neither did Jason Kidd or Shaq or Tracy McGrady or Kobe, though the latter has other life-altering issues to concern himself with. They are all perfectly within their right to make such decisions and I salute them for it.

Their reasons may differ, but the threat of intentional fouls off the court is more real than at any other point in the 104 years of Olympic glory. It is a very legitimate worry for a player who stands to gain $14.8 million for six months of work compared with a minimum amount of financial reward for 16 days in Athens. These guys already have enough jerseys with their name on it. They don't need another one. And the only gold they worry about is the NBA championship trophy and whether or not their iced-out bling-blinging necklaces match their Timberlands.

The "representing your country" notion is a farce for basketball players. A joke, a mockery of the English language, right up there with "the public's right to know," "low carb diets are really healthy" and Paris Hilton. It's a phrase the haters use hoping to evoke patriotic appeal and immediately turn a multimillionaire into an Olympic zealot. The United States did not line Garnett's pockets with $126 million. Minnesota's owner did.

For some reason, these ballers who turn down an Olympic invitation get ridiculed. But why should they be compelled to play in an unsafe environment and risk damaging their lives, not just their careers. If they really want to see Greece, they can afford to fly first class and stay in the best of hotels on the Mediterranean.

I realize that every other athlete in Athens next month will breathe the same air of uncertainty and compete under that same fear of terror, but when was the last time you bought a Michael Phelps swim suit or a pair of Marion Jones sneakers? For 99 percent of Olympians, this is their one and only chance at athletic glory and recognition. Kerri Strug never would have made the Wheaties box if she were just a U.S. champion gymnast in 1995 instead of a 1996 Olympic gold medalist.

All those national and world championship events in non-Olympic years are on television because NBC doesn't have football rights anymore and ESPN owns all the other non-traditional events such as the Xtreme Games and Great Outdoor Games.

The sprinters and the hurdlers, the synchronized swimmers and the tumblers, the archers and the boxers, they all need the Olympics. Basketball players do not. They have their own league and every game they play is on television. They are exposed like Shannon Tweed on Showtime after 11 p.m.

Not so with the other Olympians. DirecTV has yet to set up the "Final Heat" package for a season of track and field events.

20 Comments:

  • At 11:36 AM, Blogger Boner Stabone said…

    Jane you ignorant slut. While these guys have a right not to play, citing safety concerns is a cop out. "Playing for their country" gives them a chance to do something for their country and the fans that put money in their pockets, rims on their cars, games in the x-box, and pot in the bong. If you don't think that the United States is what makes it possible to pay KG, tell me one other place in the world were a high school graduate can make $126 million to play a game, desipte never proving that he can win anything more than a slam dunk contest. However, in the end, I don't really care if these guys play or not. In fact, I could not care less about this years games.

    The olympics is not the same since the close of the cold war. There is no more us vs. them, capitalisim vs. communism, good vs. evil, Rocky vs. Drago. Now it is what the founders of the modern olympic movement wanted. It is a friendly athletic competition between nations and their corporate sponsors. Isn't that great? Actually, to quote private John Winger, "I think it sucks sarge."

    Without talk that the East German judge screwed us, or that the Russian boxers were taking some miracle cocktail developed deep in the motherland, the games lose a bit of their intrigue. Sure I am happy when some american wins a medal, but is not the same as it used to be. There was a time when you not only wanted the Americans to win gold, but you wanted that proud boy from Kansas City to turn to the soviet block athlete on the second step of the medal stand, grab his silver medal, turn it sideways and shove it someplace polite people don't talk about.

    Without the us vs. them storyline, the olympics has become nothing more than an exhibition. Maybye that is the way it should be, but I don't have to like it.

     
  • At 2:28 PM, Blogger Joey Knish said…

    The Olympics have not meant anything since Mike Eruzione. As Chazz Palmintieri says in the Bronx Tale, "Nobody cares..."

    I hope the USA basketball team comes in SIXTH place. The rest of the world's teams, with (dare I say) unselfish team play will expose our so-called Dream Team for exactly what they are...a bunch of overpaid, egotistical, overgrown children. And the NBA and its employees will not change until GM's like Isiah Thomas stop offering glorified back-ups like Jamal Crawford 8 mil a year.

     
  • At 10:29 AM, Blogger The Lon said…

    Hey, we just edged Germany. Things are looking up. Does anyone remember back when US Olympic B-Ball finally went pro and sportswriters were saying no one would ever touch us again??? Seems like a long time ago.

     
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