(I previewed the World Championships at CBS Sports today if you want to take a look. It’s slightly longish. Also, I wrote about this topic as well, so I’m bringing over some of those thoughts here in case you good people would like to discuss as well. Definitely curious to hear some other thoughts on it.)
This is a question I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks. We’re so good at it and we’re about to compete against other countries… yet we don’t give a flip. Which is so weird to me.
For us Americans, you slap “USA” across the chest of anything and we’re rooting for it. I found myself watching hours of curling in last year’s winter Olympics. We root on Michael Phelps in a sport nobody cares about. We act like we’re soccer crazy during the World Cup. But when Team USA laces up the sneakers and takes things to the hardwood, we just don’t seem to care. And I have no idea why.
Rob Mahoney of Hardwood Paroxysm looked into this and asked it in an even more interesting manner: Why do people like the Thunder so much and not Team USA when they are so, so similar? Rob and I started chatting about this and some thoughts came to mind for me.
One reason is I think a lot is that the perception (at least in my mind) is that players don’t care about these games. Everyone just assume that Kevin Durant saying that he’d rather win a gold medal than an NBA title is all for show in an effort to pronounce some sort of manufactured patriotism through basketball. I don’t think people believe it. We think players are saying it because it’s the right thing to say, not because they actually are playing for country.
Why do we feel such a sense of pride when Team USA performs well in the World Cup? Why do we all gather in bars and restaurants and 9 in the morning to watch soccer every four year? There’s no reason the World Championships shouldn’t be somewhat as big as the World Cup. Obviously soccer is more popular worldwide, but why do people go soccer crazy here in the US and not for basketball, something we’re awesome at?
My theory is that Americans, for whatever reason, love to play up the underdog. We fall in love with Landon Donovan and the US soccer group because it’s the world’s game and we’re supposed to suck at it. It’s like it’s in our nature to want to say, “We’ll show you guys who sucks at soccer…” Everyone flipped for the Miracle On Ice because we beat the big bad Russians. This past winter, everyone loved the U.S. hockey team again as they took on Canada in the gold medal game. We wanted to beat Canada so badly, the team that supposedly owns hockey.
It’s like it’s this inherent thing Americans are born with. When someone says “You can’t,” we say, “We’ll show you.” And in basketball, there’s nothing to that. We’re supposed to be great. We have the biggest, fastest, strongest players. If we win, what did we prove? That we’re still the best?
Honestly, this sounds absolutely stupid, but I think the 1992 Dream Team might’ve done more harm than good in terms of our interest in international basketball. Before that, we didn’t send our pros and we were just one of the regular teams. But after the ’92 Dream Team, our mindset changed. Our perception was after those Olympics was that everyone else sucks at basketball and we’ll win by 40. At at least, that we should. We no longer respected international basketball because there was no way other countries could compete.
And I don’t think the casual fans have realized that the rest of the world has completely caught up internationally. The 2006 bronze wasn’t a fluke. Team USA just wasn’t good enough. And if we lose this year, the excuse will be because we didn’t send our best. There was no Kobe, Chris Paul, LeBron or Dwyane Wade. Well, the reality is, a lot of the other countries competing don’t have their best players either. So it’s really not a great excuse. Do people not realize it’s been 16 years since we’ve won a World Championship gold? The U.S. hasn’t won since 1994! And how are we not taking this personally?
This is something that will never make sense to me. Heck, I’m as guilty about it as anyone. I’m definitely not as pumped about tomorrow’s action starting as I was the beginning of the World Cup. And I don’t know why. Sure, we get a bit more excited for the Olympics, but still, it’s nothing to the level of the World Cup or even just a playoff game featuring our favorite team. There’s just no real passion, no enthusiasm for it. Coach K and Jerry Colangelo have done their best to change this, but it’s just some sort of arrogance that Americans have that prevents them from deeply investing in the World Championships.
It’s been 16 years since the Star Spangled Banner played at the end of the World Championships. It’s fine if we don’t care. As long as the 12 wearing red, white and blue do, we should hearing it again.