It's a comfort to know that the best basketball players in the world still hail from the U.S.A. With marquee players toying with the idea of leaving the NBA and using their talents throughout all corners of the Earth for exorbitant sums, it's good to know that the country that spawned the game still spawns it's most formidable practitioners. It's a reminder that even if we do lose some of our best players to wealthier foreign pastures, this will still be home to the best teams in the world.
That said, globalization is a scary thing for many Americans. We feel easily threatened by anything that could compromise our perceived cultural dominance. But we've been confronted in these and other recent Olympic games with a glimpse at our sporting mortality. And this year, we caught a glimpse at China's oft-creepy big brotherly-ness and their ability to coordinate 2,008 seemingly angry drummers and martial artists in a dazzling ceremony. (Daley thinks Chicago can top that ... really?) It's tough to think that there are countries out there who may be instilling in their kids a more intense work ethic while imposing a more stringent moral code by which to live.
Suddenly, we're not always certain how we stack up in various venues in a globalized world.
That's why the Olympics can be a bit like the first day of school -- where you walk into the classroom hoping that your cargo shorts and polo with a flipped-up collar are still (if they ever were) cool. You don't know if you'll come out the object of has-been ridicule or envy. You can only be unapologetic about who you are. That's exactly what the U.S. basketball team did. It has walked into the world's classroom, collar popped. It grabbed a chair in the back of the room and sat confidently in it. These guys then watched as the rest of the world trickled into the classroom and proceeded to try and pop their collars. But it simiply never worked -- it never looked as good as the original or even remotely stacked up.
You're not used to seeing a touch of class from this country, generally speaking -- and it's especially rare to see it with NBA players in recent years.
It wasn't always like that.
As a Michael Jordan-obsessed kid growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I didn't miss a moment of the original Dream Team's epic run. I meticulously taped each game on VHS. I even covered up the Reebok logo on a jacket I owned at the time -- just like Jordan and others did on the medal stand. This was a time when NBA players were worth looking up to because you never saw the reasons why they weren't.
In books, Jordan spoke about the ways he prepared himself and how he managed to dominate his opponents -- his relentless work ethic and his love for his career, his profession and many of his co-workers. These were good things for a kid to learn. Putting myself in my 12-year-old shoes, I remember Jordan was a complex, otherworldly super hero. Of course, now that I'm older and know a bit more about Jordan and his myriad exploits during those years, it doesn't look so rosy, but it doesn't matter. You never saw that side of Jordan. You never saw him brawling in the stands, only scuffling occasionally with Reggie Miller and John Starks. And let's be honest, those guys deserved it as most people whose veins course with pure evil do.
But my point is that it's good for kids to see this. It's good for kids to see grown men -- men who, at times, have displayed more defense in courts of law than on courts of basketball -- truly take pride and derive joy from what they're doing. It's good to see them get the opportunity to prove themselves on the world stage and make the very most of it. Without that, kids may never get to see the power of redemption.
In the end, I have to ask -- would we be proud of them if they'd lost today? For those who measure worth in wins and losses, the answer is probably no. But for those of us who hope nothing more than for our athletes to be the best representation of our physical selves on a world stage, the answer is an emphatic yes. So the fact that they did win? Well, that's just golden.
Read Jay Mariotti's take on the Redeem Team here and Greg Couch's here.
Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post also provides a fine piece of journalism here.