Dream team or Olympic nightmare?

Philip Consuegra

As the school year started, the world of sports had its eye on one thing: the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad. Mind you, I am no different, and with the final medal count, the U. S. Olympic Committee appears to be in safe hands.

There is, however, one exception: men’s basketball.

For the last four Olympics, the United States has provided its best professional players for one purpose: to beat Russia and win the gold medal with little trouble.

In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the United States lost the gold to the Soviet Union and took the bronze. It was American basketball’s intention that this loss would never happen again.

In 1992, the first “Dream Team,” including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and John Stockton, destroyed smaller nations, like Latvia and Estonia, to stomp its way to the gold in Barcelona.

In 1996, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal and Gary Payton beat Yugoslavia to take the gold in Atlanta.

In 2000, Kevin Garnett and Jason Kidd led the way to yet another gold in Sydney.

This year, however, was different. They were human. They were vulnerable. And yes, they were beatable.

They no longer handle teams and beat them by 30 points. They’re just barely pulling by, defeating lowly Greece by six and actually losing to Puerto Rico.

Then I finally really woke up to what was going on. The U. S. men lost to Lithuania, putting the medal round in jeopardy for the so-called “Dream Team.”

I sat there and watched as fouls were called and shots were missed, as passes were nonchalantly thrown and selfish plays dominated most of the U.S. men’s performance. It was sloppy. It was ugly. It was embarrassing.

In an Olympics that has produced American athletes like Michael Phelps, Kelly Walsh, Misty May and Carly Patterson, the U. S. men’s basketball team has found a way to steal the spotlight with lackluster and careless play. In an Olympics where one can see the Olympic dreams of Natalie Caughlin, Aaron Peirsol and Rulon Gardner, the dream seems to fade whenever one mentions the “Dream Team.”

We sports fans know better, though. It’s not the medal they care about; it’s the highlight reel.

Teams in the Olympics succeed because of team play, working together to win. That’s what basketball should and was meant to be. In the NBA, these jokers can get away with individual basketball, but not in the Olympics.

When I look at the teams who beat the U.S. men, I notice a few things. First, I notice the lack of selfishness on the other teams. Those players do not look to glorify their own play but find the open man and create opportunities.

Then I look at the United States, taking foolish shots and making careless errors. But hey, it’s all right, everybody gets to go back to the Queen Mary 2 and get a free massage after their sloppy showing.

Many have let it be known that this team is not the team that was supposed to be there – that Jason Kidd and Shaq walked away because of safety issues. To them I say this – it doesn’t matter.

This team, even without Kidd and Shaq, should still be beating the rest of the world by 30. Maybe if “captain” Allen Iverson actually went to practice and showed a little bit of interest, this team would be better. But until we get past the attitudes and egos and start realizing the Olympic dream, this team, to me, won’t mean a thing.

And don’t think American basketball is innocent, either. Someone just needs to tell them bluntly that Russia is no longer a threat.

Our amateurs and college players are heads and shoulders better than the rest of the world’s amateurs. Just swallow your pride and put amateur college kids back into the Olympics. Remember, the 1980 U.S. hockey team’s average age was 21 – kids who were our age, folks. They didn’t have a lot of individual talent. They mastered two things the pros seem to have forgotten: heart and teamwork. That’s pretty powerful.

In the Walt Disney movie “Miracle,” which depicts the 1980 U.S. hockey team’s win over the Soviet Union, Kurt Russell’s character, Herb Brooks, makes an interesting point at the end.

While discussing “dream teams,” he states, “I found that term ironic, because now that we have ‘dream teams,’ they seldom ever get the dream.”

How true, Herb. How true.