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News » Winning gold might mean something this time 2008-07-24

Winning gold might mean something this time 2008-07-24

Winning gold might mean something this time 2008-07-24
LAS VEGAS - When I asked Kobe Bryant what stands out in his recollection of the 1992 Olympic team, he promptly spoke of "the joy."

"The joy of the game," he said. "I think a lot of times that gets lost in the Olympics because of all the pressure and the hype."

Bryant, who claimed to have been similarly awed by swimmer Summer Sanders and gymnast Dominique Dawes, watched the Dream Team as a kid from his home in suburban Philadelphia. I saw it up close, though, as it happened in Barcelona. And while I remember the hype, then as now, the joy escapes me.

The Dream Team was good for the corporations that sold sneakers and soft drinks. It was good to advance David Stern's plan for world domination (I'm sort of kidding). But it wasn't really about the game.

I recall Charles Barkley, often mentioned as a prospective United States senator, cheap-shotting a member of the Angolan team. Barkley vigorously defended his use of the offending elbow. The Angolan, he said, "might have pulled a spear on me."

That was after the opening game, a 116-48 victory that pretty much set the tone for what was to come. Sporting events should be sporting propositions; these games were not. The Dream Team's conquests had all the drama of the British invasion of the Falklands.

And who could forget the sheer, spontaneous joy of the Americans on the medal stand? Remember how the team's Nike contingent — led by Michael Jordan, of course — used the flag to cover the Reebok logos on their warm-ups as they posed for photographs.

OK, maybe a young Kobe Bryant could buy into the hype. But I was younger, too, and that wasn't the kind of moment to bring tears to my eyes. Rather, it served a young and undertrained columnist as a tutorial in cynicism. Appeals to one's sentiment tend to camouflage a mercantile interest.

Over the years, I've taken occasionally perverse satisfaction in the declining fortunes of Team USA. America remains the best basketball-playing nation in the world. But absolute American hegemony is a thing of the past.

USA Basketball is coming off consecutive bronze medal efforts -- in the 2006 world championships, and more ignominiously, the 2004 team that went to Athens. That would be Larry Brown's hasty and ill-fated attempt to fashion Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury — two shot-happy guards with whom he has feuded — into a starting backcourt. The team was an embarrassment. I'd like to think the Angolan who caught Barkley's elbow was watching.

2008 Olympic Games


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  • Bolt cruises in 200; American 2nd
  • Former long jump champ fails to qualify
  • Swimmer Hardy insists she's innocent
  • IOC boss: Expect 40 doping cases
  • Iraq hopes to restore Olympic status
  • Olympic ticket sale starts stampede
  • Swimmer with cancer ready to go


  • Kriegel: Gold might mean something
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  • Baseball's farewell bad for Cuba


  • PHOTOS: U.S. athletes to watch
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But as is usually the case following humiliating losses, America has rededicated itself. The party line, advanced most forcefully by Bryant, holds that winning a gold medal "is more important" than winning an NBA championship ring.

Maybe Bryant says this because he already has a few championship rings. More likely, he's being politically correct. "It's the world stage," he said yesterday. "You have the best basketball players in the world representing their countries. We're all in one place. Now you throw the ball out and see whose country is the best."

I don't buy it. I asked Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony (who shot 7 for 28 in Athens), and they all agreed. Given a choice between the ring and the medal, they said they'd choose the medal.

I don't believe them any more than I believe Kobe. They each have a substantially greater chance of winning the gold than a championship ring. Without question, an NBA title remains a more difficult feat for anyone on this team. The pressure on a franchise player is greater, and the season about five times longer.

That's not to say these Olympians should be faulted for a lack of candor. Any other answer would have them branded as "unpatriotic." In many respects, Olympic basketball remains a thankless task for Americans. We might not be what we were, but we're still supposed to win.

"The world has caught up to us," said Bosh. "I think that makes it more special."

I'll concede that point and then some. Kobe Bryant, two weeks shy of his 14th birthday when Jordan et al won gold for the nation-state of Nike, is among the elder statesmen of Team USA. With the exception of rapidly aging Jason Kidd, most of Bryant's teammates recall little or nothing of '92.

"Nothing," said LeBron James. "I was eight."

"Only thing I got from that Dream Team was a Wheaties Box," said Howard, who was six.

The players on this team came of age in a different basketball world. Stern's plan, while falling short of global domination, did in fact yield substantial benefits. Basketball is the only American sport to flourish internationally.

What's more, losing turned out to be a good thing. This summer's Olympic basketball tournament promises to be a competition, not a coronation. You can take some joy in that.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: July 24, 2008


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