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Ending Dream Team era makes no sense
There is a picture circulating on Facebook of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. He is at the gold-medal women’s soccer game between the U.S. and Japan, and he has this huge smile on his face. It seemed almost disproportionate to the moment, especially for a guy who has been to an NBA Finals.
“This is a blessing. This is a privilege, man,” Durant said. “It is not guaranteed we are going to be here again, so we just want to take it all in, leave nothing to chance.”
Every four years, usually about this time, we have debates over whether America should bring its best basketball players to play basketball at the Olympics, which is odd because nobody ever questions whether the best archers should come or the best swimmers.
The debate used to be merely a professional one.
Was having pro players fair, or a good Olympic experience, or really even what the Olympics were about in theory? This was always ridiculous, as Michael Phelps, his agent and Subway will attest. This is what we now have: a financial argument.
And all the discussions about age limits and World Cups of Basketball, all of which naturally conclude with the killing of the Dream Team era of Olympic basketball, boil down to one argument: Who has more of a right to make money off NBA players?
There is no good guy or bad guy in this, no matter what we have been told. The NBA owners like Mark Cuban want a return on their investment. Fair enough. The International Olympic Committee wants to keep making money off of the national pride of countries. A little less fair, yet a game we all play and, judging by NBC’s numbers, watch.
It is likely the Dream Team Olympic days are numbered, if not by 2016 then by 2020 for sure. What NBA commissioner David Stern wants he usually gets and he is pushing hard for this 23-and-under age limit for Olympic basketball teams.
The irony of the thing is how clearly the threat of losing NBAers at the Olympics exposes the idiocy of those who for so long argued they should not be here.
The argument was always the Olympics meant nothing to these pros, these guys who regularly played in front of packed arenas and were paid millions upon millions to do so. They were here for marketing and because saying “no” looked bad and their presence took away from the hardworking judokan, hand baller or name your every four-year sport athlete.
It turns out this is not only not true but quite the opposite. The players on this team, even those for whom instituting an age limit will have no effect, seem genuinely disappointed that the Dream Team era may be ending.
“I think it would be a shame,” LA Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant said. “At the Olympics … you really want to send your best out there to mingle with the other athletes who are the best. I love it. I love (the Olympics). If they are doing that rule, I am glad they did not impose it when I am still around.”
Wait, so you will not be around in four years, I teased him.
“I doubt it,” Kobe said. “I seriously, seriously doubt it.”
That is what guys always say, and look at Steve Nash.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That will be like 22 years in the league for me. That is insane. … But I will be at the games.”
“Respect,” is partially why Kobe has been at swimming and tennis and soccer, cramming a good portion of his free time with the pursuit of watching other athletes play sport. It is why he is always organizing his teammates to go with him.
Why provokes a fascinating answer.
“Because I know what it takes to get to an elite level. It’s a lot of sacrifice. So it is showing respect for the athletes, what they do and how they got there,” Kobe said. “The other thing is curiosity. I rarely get a chance to be a fan and I know how I deal with pressure situations and you know being in that moment and I enjoy watching elite athletes in those same situations and how they handle it. It’s fun for me. I get to be a fan and just spectate.”
He is friends with Alex Morgan, and a big fan of the team. He knows how hard they work and how much this means to them. What is wrong is this idea that the Olympics mean nothing to the NBA guys.
Tyson Chandler won an NBA Championship in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks and it was one of those amazing, once-in-a-lifetime runs where a team comes together and shocks the world and makes legends and gets players paid.
All of which happened to Chandler.
As he talked Thursday, before the semifinal game against Argentina, it was obvious this is just as big to him. It is one of those dreams he did not dare to dream as a kid but is now realizing he should have.
“This is an honor, playing for your country,” Chandler said. “I think it was one of those things you don’t even see as possible. It is so far away and being here is surreal.”
What is surreal is possibly not bringing them back. It just would not be the Olympics without them.