I'm not much of a fan of the Summer Olympics. I just can't get into most of the competition. Gymnastics, track and field, swimming-these were all things that I was horrible at as a kid and thus I have no real desire to watch. Don't get me wrong, I am impressed as can be at the accomplishments of the athletes at the games, but I just don't have the interest to watch most of it.
The Winter games are another story. I am a junkie for the Winter Olympics. In 2002, I had a horrible case of the flu and could do nothing for the better part of a week. Thankfully, it was also during the Salt Lake games. I think I saw every minute broadcast of the second week of those games. It made sweating through those 104 degree fevers just a bit more managable.
I have to admit that I am rooting big time for this team to lose. The US Men's Olympic Basketball Team is a microcosm of why I have come to despise basketball. It wasn't always this way. I live in Chicago and fondly remember the 90's, when the Bulls won six NBA titles behind Michael Jordan. I went to college at the University of Iowa, one of the best places in the Midwest to watch basketball. I used to be a 6 on the basketball junkie scale. Not anymore.
First, there's no way professionals belong on the Olympic team. What's the average NBA salary these days, four million per year? What does anyone making that kind of money going to do with a gold, silver or bronze medal? And if you pay attention to the prevailing attitudes that permeate the NBA these days (think Shaq vs. Kobe), those no way anyone can be the "I just want to win for my country" line. Put amateurs back into the games. It builds character.
I can't stand the NBA anymore because it is no longer a team game. Everyone wants to get paid, and then they want to go out and beat five players on the opposing team by themselves. And every basket has to be a slam. No one can shoot anymore. Ask the Lithuanians about that one. I was 12 before I can remember any college player leaving school early to go into the NBA draft, and that was only because it was Magic Johnson. Now it is a bigger story if a player stays all four years in college before going pro, if he bothers to go to college at all. Why should he? There's a bevy of teenagers in the NBA who are making millions of dollars per year and have no idea how to play the pro game. They just sit on the bench and collect their money.
Ah, you say, but what about guys like LeBron James? Well, for every LeBron James there are about ten Ronnie Fields, guys who think they will be stars in the pros and don't have to go to school, and they never make it. You never hear from them again. And the league doesn't care.
The college game is ruined for me as well because no one sticks around anymore. The challenege used to be to build a team around players that you'd have for four years. When I was a freshman at Iowa the basketball team had six standout seniors, players that had been together for three previous years, played well together, and thus had a great last season. Something like that would not happen today, because they all would have left school early.
I get the impression that those who are blessed enough to have the talent to play this particular game professionally do not appreciate what it is they have, but rather they expect to be rewarded just for who they are, not what they do. And that's a shame, because I remember things like watching the Bulls mount a comeback from 15 points down to beat Portland for the 1992 NBA crown, or the Hawkeyes smacking the Illini at Carver Arena and I know that I won't feel like that again, because instead of evolving, the game has devolved (if that is indeed a word.)
So pardon me if I am rooting for Spain in the quarterfinals. Then maybe the first step that needs to be taken, of putting college players back on the Olympic team, will occur. Then the NBA and the NCAA can work out an age limit agreement for going pro, and I can start getting into it again.