“It doesn’t quite seem sporting, does it?”
That’s what a women here at the London Media Centre (who shall remain nameless as staff is not allowed to go on the record with comments about the Games or the athletes) said about Team USA’s pitiless annihilation of Nigeria Thursday night in Olympic Basketball.
Kevin Durant, Lebron James and Kobe Bryant joined with their fellow 21st Century Dream Teamers to humiliate thoroughly their African opponents, 156-73. That score total and 83 point margin of victory set Olympic records – while probably setting the game of basketball and U.S./Nigerian African relations back 83 years.
While U.S. NBA fans probably enjoyed the novelty of such a spectacle, the sentiment across the host nation and many of its international visitors is that firepower of such magnitude is not in keeping with the Olympic spirit. Even members of the American press are asking if Team USA ran up the score – an accusation that offended Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski at the post-game press conference.
"We didn't play LeBron and Kobe at all in the second half," Krzyzewski said "Carmelo (Anthony – who scored 37 points), we benched him," said. "We didn't take any fast breaks in the fourth quarter, and we played all zone. You have to take a shot every 24 seconds, and the shots we took went in."
"I take offense because there's no way in the world that our program in the United States sets out to humiliate anyone."
I take the coach at this word, but it’s not that impossible to do something you really didn’t set out to do. Ask my parents. They didn’t set out to have my baby sister, but there she is.
Team USA did humiliate the Nigerians. Now, the Nigerians helped by being God awful and refusing to play anything remotely resembling defense. But anyone who watched this debacle could see Team USA didn’t exactly hold back their joyful dismantling of Nigeria. The world was watching, and the vibe here is that Team USA is going from the celebrity star power of these Games to the kind of bullying villains folks cheer against – even though there’s obviously no chance in hell these would-be cocky bad guys will lose. Ever.
I suppose it’s better than the opposite crime committed by China earlier this week in the Olympic Badminton. Eight female players were disqualified and expelled from London 2012 for deliberately throwing a tournament match to gain a better draw to the medal round. Throwing a contest doesn’t fit with the Olympic spirit, so off the Chinese ladies went. But, how does setting fire to five guys on a basketball court set with said spirit?
The controversy only serves to fire up the Dream Team debate for Team USA. NBA Commissioner David Stern is making noise that he wants to impose a 23 and under rule for Olympic competition – an idea that would make Dream Team’s less dreamy.
The Dream Team idea always seemed like an overreaction to this American. After watching college kids lose Gold at the Olympics, USA Basketball’s bruised ego recruited a team of players who not only couldn’t lose – but would annihilate the basketball universe. By sending Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, USA hoops told the world, “If you beat us, we’ll nuke you. That’ll show ya!”
Team USA is still showing the world that America is the best at a game it invented by itself for itself. The Brits and the rest of the fans here want to enjoy that spectacle, but exhibitions like the Nigerian holocaust are, as the lady said, “not sporting.”