We Have Met The Enemy, And Guess What? . . .

USA Basketball

Time was, it wasn’t so easy to find a professional athlete in the Olympics if you resided on this side of the continent. And call me naïve but I happen to think it was a kitschy involvement worthy of a look.

This was before the cache of commercialism made everybody famous, well ahead of their respective medal quests. Amateurism hadn’t become the longest four letter word in the dictionary just yet. I know, it’s hard to imagine an America where humility and patience were woven into our stuck up blue jeans, but trust me . . there was a time when this country actually had some charm to it.

And then the International Federation opened the floodgates in 1986 when they announced that professional athletes would be permitted in Olympic competition. Of course, the logistical hurdles meant that many countries- including us- were slow to the get. Until our national pride took a hit on the hardwood in the ’88 Summer Games when the Soviets delivered a big fat nyet to our college kids, forcing USA Basketball to (gasp!) settle for bronze.

This turn of events led to the brand serpent known as the “Dream Team”, which featured the greatest collection of basketball talent in the history of ever. It was a roster that began with Magic, Bird and Jordan and just kept on going from there. So basically, the ’92 Summer Olympics in Madrid wasn’t a matter of if USA Basketball was going to take back the gold, but by how many points.

And you can call me un-American if you like, but it was joyless.

Listen, I get why it all went down that way. Teams like the Soviets had been using the professional by proxy method forever, so it was only a matter of time before everybody else got to it. But still, there was something magical about our kids going up against the giants of the sport.

It’s why the classic Al Michaels call at the end of USA 4- USSR 3 is etched into the memory of anyone who watched that hockey game in Lake Placid. Because the impossible actually happened when a bunch of college players took down the greatest (professional) team in the world. Replace those kids with NHL players? Herb Brooks ain’t our Olympic Santa Claus . . Kurt Russell ain’t playing him in a movie and that Al Michaels call never happens.

So here we are, all this time later, playing the role of the Soviets. On hardwood. Because that’s what it feels like after our basketball Goliaths got beat not once . . but twice inside a single calendar week after having lost only two other times in Olympic competition since forever ago.

Nigeria 90- USA 87

Australia 91- USA 83

Two straight losses for the first time ever. And yes, okay . . it’s exhibition games we’re talking in the leadup to the real spaghetti dinner. Still, our collective shrug was their champagne toast at last call. They are naming boulevards and first born’s after the players on those teams as we speak. And good for them, seriously.

Because while I love me some Association, I also feel like we should have let sleeping dogs lie after ’92. I said it then and I’ll say it now. We should have gone back to kids for the summer games after that. I realize this means leaving money on the table, which ain’t something a professional sports league is going to do. But in retrospect, maybe it was short sighted to believe we HAD to keep rolling out a known brand.

I mean, think about it. Those college kids whose skills proved worthy of an Olympic nod would’ve been cashing their NBA checks soon enough. They were the future brand. We could’ve given them the keys to the car after Madrid and not missed a beat. If we lost . . hey, college kids. When we won, hey, college kids!

But nope, we had to bully that pulpit into submission.

Welp, as ancient Rome would tell you . . mighty? is flighty. And just like those Soviet hockey players from back in the day, our NBA guys have become the victims of their own greatness. Winning gold is the expectation, anything less is bupkis cake. And I didn’t even mention the fact that globalization of the NBA allows for the league’s best to play for their home countries, further destabilizing our slam dunk march to the bacon cheeseburger spot on the podium. Which means that even after beating Argentina, whose star player I think is my age, the Americans hold on the gold is still less certain than a Kardashian love thing.

Am I a socialist for loving that?



43 thoughts on “We Have Met The Enemy, And Guess What? . . .

  1. B,

    I’m so glad you decided to blog this, adding to our conversation. As you know, I am anti-professionals playing in Olympics. Yeah, yeah. the damn Soviets didn’t give a shit about that and found their own loopholes to give the rest of the world the middle finger. But, like you said, it was way more satisfying and magical for the USA to win against them back in 1980, knowing they were up against pros who pretended they weren’t.

    Of course, it stands to reason that basketball and tennis and whatever other sports would follow suit and I can’t even blame the US for creating their Dream Team, really. If you can’t beat ’em (except as an upset) then join ’em.

    Bring back the kids. The ones who put their heart and soul into their sport, who rack up a debt doing so (coz, let’s face it, sports ain’t cheap) and who, after they’ve done their thing, THEN they can go pro and earn a living.

    I know, I know. I like to dream in Technicolor.

    Fabulous post, B.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Q

      Sadly, we will never experience a moment like that one in Lake Placid ever again. I’m all for level playing fields, but there was a dynamic to amateurism that has been lost since the pros took over.

      The Dream Team was a marketing dream, but really, people got the joke. We’re better than everyone else at basketball, fine. But yeah, after the Madrid games, they could have gone back to college kids. They could have been creative about it too.

      We all do. Because I feel like there are a LOT more people who feel this way than don’t.

      Gracias Q!


      Liked by 1 person

      • No, for sure. That was a once in a lifetime thing – which makes it all the more special.

        Yes, the Dream Team was all that. Once you open that can of worms, you can’t put the lid back on. We are the ones dreaming, now.

        I think you’re right. I don’t know many people who are pro-pros in the Olympics. Many have taken the, “well the Soviets did it so we might as well” approach plus, as many say, today’s amateurs do get paid in sponsorships so it’s basically the same difference. Only we know it isn’t, don’t we?

        My pleasure, B!

        Liked by 1 person

        • NOTHING about that game will ever happen again. I say that because the game with the Soviets was played in the middle of the afternoon and then re-broadcast that evening in prime time. NOBODY knew the result since there was no social media around. Unreal.

          The trough got much too big, and once that happens, there is NO going back.

          The difference is, unlike KD or Lebron, they don’t rent a yacht in Greece for a month. They’re not rock stars. They become household names based on what they do during the games, and I dig that.


          Liked by 2 people

          • That’s for sure. Amazing how that could never happen today. Besides the fact so many work from home, social media would be all over it.

            Like most things. You just can’t go back.

            Yes. And let’s face it, they are “paid” in sponsorships that cover their training and travel – nothing else. I dig that, too.


            Liked by 1 person

          • There was a charm to the way news used to work. We wonder why so many people have become so reactionary, and maybe that’s got something to do with it. They don’t have a buffer, there’s no time with which to process anything these days. Everything is delivered instantly, and people jump on it.


            I know nothing about most of those athletes and that’s what made the Olympics special.


            Liked by 1 person

          • This is a valid point, B. One doesn’t even have time to digest what one learns before something else is blasted at us and then another and another. No one takes the time to explore the truth being spewed, as well. Like you said, they jump at it, take it for gospel and respew it!

            Probably a good thing.

            Right! It’s nice to be wowed as they capture our attention by their feats. THEN we learn more about them.


            Liked by 1 person

          • We would get our news by way of the papers or a half hour report. We had time to digest things, think about them. Not anymore.


            I know not a blessed member of the curling team, and I like it that way. If they were reality show stars, it would take something away from the event, for me.


            Liked by 1 person

          • I miss those days.

            I’m thinkin’.

            I like that we get to know the athletes as we watch them play. I became invested in the women’s Canadian curling team and their captain, Sandra Shmirler, so that when she passed away from cancer a few years later, I was saddened. Had never heard of her before the games. I like that.


            Liked by 1 person

          • Me too, oh well.

            I remember that’s how I came to know Olympians, at the games. There was no reality show lead in, no commercial endorsements (until after they won gold).


            Liked by 1 person

          • Oh well…

            Exactly! And we cheered them on and wished them well and after they were done competing, bringing home the gold, then, if they were lucky (depending on their discipline) they were able to turn that medal into a living – at least for a while!


            Liked by 1 person

          • Like Michael Phelps. Who knew of him before he started collecting gold medals? And the ’84 Games is where Mary Lou Retton became a household name. And on and on and on it goes, the names were introduced to us through the games.


            Liked by 1 person

  2. Like so many things in this jaded world, when people saw a dollar sign they wanted to make it grow and grow and grow. To hell with the kids! To hell with what is right! And to hell with sportsmanship. There is money to be made and we will beat it until we get it. Sad really.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Imo the Olympics in Tokyo should be called off or have no spectators this time around. Even the Olympics is commercialized and has lost most of the glory. I’m not into those sports that involve professionals at the games. Love those gymnasts and figure skaters though. Thanks for the great article Marc, enjoyed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think there will be any spectators at this Olympics as a result of the surge in COVID cases. It’s the right thing to do, considering how the games would be the ultimate super spreader.

      As for gymnastics and ice skating, there is a reason those sports remain so popular every four years. Because people are introduced to new stories. It’s not a reality show like basketball has become.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I totally agree with this. The advent of professionals in the Games took some of the luster away. But … even the amateurs are, on some level professionals, they are basically allowed to train and compete year-round because they get financial support from sports organizations, sponsors, and others.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This whole notion of professional vs. amateur seems to be superficial. Weren’t the Olympics supposed to be the best of the best in their respective event? I for one did a small cheer at the outcome of those exhibition games. Comeuppance can be a lovely thing when it comes to the NBA.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m reading a book about the USPS and it hammers home the point in almost every chapter that it was and is a public enterprise that has often been held to the standards of a private enterprise, especially recently. In a way, the Olympics situation you’re describing here is a similar uncomfortable hybrid that tries to be successful for both professional and amateur athletics. And pardon the pun but the bottom line is that an amateur athlete’s success or even just exposure on the Olympic stage will for many of them be their only opportunity to get anything like professional success like money after having invested so much of their own in what may, in the end, turn out be only for love of their sport. So glad I’m not an athlete!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. enjoyed this post with all the sorryless-isms…
    stuck of blue jeans
    history if ever

    the dream team will always be special – even with Christian as part of the pack (kidding – but have you seen the documentary about CL?)

    Liked by 1 person

      • that is a great basketball to keep – and the documentary is fantastic – something about “why everyone hates christian laettner?”
        and they showed his humble beginnings and i don’t recall
        much more than that – lol
        by the way
        i am prepping to watch halston soon- let me know if you still want to share notes after we both get to see it….

        Liked by 1 person

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